Babe Among the Stars: King of the Kuiper Belt

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy

King of the Kuiper Belt

When the New Horizons spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral in 2006, Pluto was still a planet - the only one not visited by a spacecraft from Earth - and it was thought to have only three moons (Charon, Nix and Hydra). When New Horizons reached Pluto in July 2015, its status had been downgraded to dwarf planet but its family had increased to five moons (the extra two subsequently named Kerberos and Styx). The images of the flyby sent back to Earth have been amazing: Pluto has a huge heart-shaped region which has been labelled Tombaugh Regio after Pluto's discoverer Clyde William Tombaugh. The New Horizons spacecraft was carrying some of Tombaugh's ashes.

NASA are still publishing images from the Plutonian system at the time of writing but here are some of the best, showing why dwarf planet Pluto is now unofficially known as the 'King of the Kuiper Belt':

August 2015 Diary Dates

The Moon does us two huge favours this month - it's at new phase when the Perseid meteor shower peaks and it's at perigee (closest to Earth) when at full phase (resulting in a Supermoon). Fingers crossed for clear skies so we can cash in!

  • 02: The Moon is at perigee (closest to Earth)
  • 02: The Moon passes 3° north of Neptune
  • 05: The Moon passes 1° south of Uranus
  • 05: Mercury passes 8° north of Venus
  • 06: Mercury passes half a degree north of Jupiter
  • 06: The 10m-wide asteroid 2015 PK will pass Earth within the orbit of the Moon (1/5 lunar distance)
  • 06: The 1.4km-wide asteroid 2005 NZ6 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 07: Mercury passes 1° north of Regulus (alpha Leonis)
  • 07: The 80m-wide asteroid 2015 PK9 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 08: The Moon passes half a degree north of Aldebaran (alpha Tauri)
  • 08: The 16m-wide asteroid 2015 PL9 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 10: Jupiter and Regulus are within half a degree
  • 12/13: Perseid meteor shower peak
  • 13: The Moon passes 6° south of Mars
  • 14: New Moon
  • 16: The Moon passes 2° south of Mercury
  • 16: The 1.6km-wide asteroid 2005 JF21 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon
  • 17: The Moon is at apogee (furthest from Earth)
  • 22: The Moon passes 3° north of Saturn
  • 29: Venus and Mars will be 9° apart
  • 29: The Moon passes 3° north of Neptune
  • 29: Full Moon (will be a Supermoon)
  • 30: The Moon is at perigee (closest to Earth)
  • 31: The 1.2km-wide asteroid 2004 NBO41 will pass Earth beyond the orbit of the Moon

  • Chat about your celestial observances at the H2G2 Astronomy Society. Comment on anything in this edition of Babe Among the Stars by starting a new conversation below.

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