I actually laughed out loud when I saw this. Ah, nerd humor.
Seriously guys, I’m a nerd. I thought I should tell you, just in case the signs had been too subtle for you to pick up on.
Speaking of moons, here’s a pretty cool mini-article from NASA about Pluto’s moons.
For those of you too lazy to click that link, this is what NASA has been calling a “family portrait” of all of Pluto’s moons. It’s pretty freaking cool.
What’s crazy about these smaller moons is how irregular they are, both in shape and in orbit and rotation. I’ve shared this video before, back when I was talking about why Pluto stopped being a planet, but I think it’s worth sharing again since it really gets the point across.
The moon represented in this animation is Nix, also known as the “wobbly potato.” And yes, the moon is much more regularly shaped in this animation then it is in the illustration above. That’s because the animation was made before the New Horizons probe did it’s Pluto flyby last summer. Now we have more information about what Pluto’s smaller moons actually look like, and it turns out that they are even weirder then expected. Like, a lot weirder.
Kerberos, for example, had been thought to be a fairly large but mostly dark moon, based on its gravitational effect on the other moons in the system. But when we were finally able to get up close and take some pictures of it, we discovered that it was very small and very bright. Early guesses were wrong.
But why then does it have such a strong gravitational influence? We don’t know.
This is what I love most about space exploration. We silly humans back on Earth are always looking at the universe around us and trying to make sense of it. We come up with explanations for what we see, based on carful observation and our best guesses. Sometimes we get it wrong. That’s how science works. You start with a theory, then you test it, and if it turns out to have been wrong then great, you’ve learned something, time to move on.
But so often it seems like people get attached to this idea that science has all the answers, that it can explain everything. When actually the whole point of science is to explore the questions we don’t have answers for. There is this common perception that science can’t be wrong, when in fact being wrong is a crucial part of the scientific process. Sometimes this idea even infects scientist, who should know better.
But when it comes to space exploration, we are wrong so much. Like, all the freaking time. And it’s not a big deal. All those awesome researchers at NASA and other international space agencies are just like “huh, well we got that one wrong. Awesome, now we have a new puzzle to solve.” I love that. I love the attitude, I love the new puzzles, I love the sense of wonder and mystery that watching the process of exploration always gives me.
And, if I’m being completely honest, my sci-fi writer’s brain loves the way the questions create space for totally crazy, unlikely, exciting answers. Like, maybe Kerberos is made up of some sort of super-heavy rare material that will turn out to be the key to faster-then-light travel. Or maybe it’s secretly a portal to another dimension, and the gravitational pull of the world through the portal is effecting the other moons in the system. Or maybe part of the moon is invisible to hide the base of operations of an alien race that has been studying us for years. WHO KNOWS!!!
Anyway. Those are some funny shaped moons.