Well, I nearly missed it, all the excitement about the images of planet Pluto. Only my Google logo alerted me to the fact that* there was an astronomy event happening now, and all my shorthand devotees were taking down the news of it without the chance to practise some of the vocabulary. Taking down difficult or technical matter without having first sorted out some of the outlines can be either exhilarating if you manage it, or very disheartening if you are thrown by the unknown words, resulting in gaping holes in your script. Just reading new outlines gets them planted in the mind, but further focussed* practising will ensure that this new information takes root and is made more permanent*, ready to be recalled in an instant, or at least reduce the delay.
* Omission phrase "to the (f)act that"
* Insert vowel, as "fixed" has a similar meaning
* See Distinguishing Outlines List 3 "prominent permanent pre-eminent"
The NASA spacecraft New Horizons left the Earth in January 2006* for its 9 year journey covering the 4.8 billion kilometres (3.26 billion miles) to Pluto, the last unexplored body in our solar system. This is a momentous key event in the history of space exploration and the probe’s rendezvous with Pluto will complete our reconnaissance of the 9 planets of the solar system. It takes sunlight 8.3 minutes to reach Earth but 5 hours to reach Pluto. Another way of understanding this immense distance is to say that* attempting to view Pluto from Earth is like trying to see a walnut from 30 miles away. The long delay (4 hours 25 minutes) in sending and receiving radio signal instructions means that the craft cannot be controlled in real time and is therefore working to an automated command sequence.
* The slash has no phonetic value, but it can be used for "thousand" or the century part of a date - it doesn't join but it is fast and less likely to be misread than an Ith.
* Omission phrase "to s(ay) that"
The first images received show the planet to be not an icy grey globe as expected* but a reddish orange body about two-thirds the size of Earth’s moon. It is 2,370 kilometres in diameter which is a little larger than previously estimated. The red tinge is thought to be of oxidised rocks like those on Mars. The probe has discovered the chemical signatures of methane and nitrogen ice in its polar ice cap and later images were able to capture details as little as 100 metres across, showing up surface features such as cliffs, craters and chasms. The main hazard that the craft faces is orbiting dust particles and one the size of a grain of rice would be enough to destroy it, although this risk is low at one in ten* thousand. All the information collected will take 16 months to relay back to earth.
* Short dash through last stroke of contraction to signify past tense
* Always insert the vowel(s) if you use an outline for ten or eighteen
On Monday 13 July 2015 the last downlink of pre-flyby data was sent and then there was radio silence, whilst the probe turned its attention entirely to gathering images and data during the fly-by. On Tuesday the New Horizons probe flew past the planet at over 45,000 kilometres per hour. On Wednesday it sent back engineering data on the status of the probe. This data showed that the craft has survived the encounter with the planet. The probe is nuclear powered and fuelled by plutonium (itself named after the planet) and has enough fuel to continue until the mid 2030’s, at which point it will have left the solar system. The gadgets on board are as follows.
- Ralph is a visible and infrared imager, taking colour pictures and helping us identify the hot and cold areas.
- Alice is an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer to observe the planetary atmosphere and objects around it.
- REX is a radio science experiment which measures the atmosphere and temperature
- LORRI is a long range reconnaissance imager, which is a super high-quality camera and will help us to map the planet’s geography. The on-board cameras will also obtain images of Pluto’s five moons called Charon, Hydra, Nix, Styx and Kerberos.
- SWAP stands for solar wind at Pluto and is a solar wind and plasma spectrometer.
- PEPSSI stands for Pluto energetic particle spectrometer science investigation, which measures the density of ions escaping from Pluto’s atmosphere.
- SDC is a student dust counter that measures the amount of space dust hitting the probe during its journey from Earth to Pluto. It was built and is controlled by students.
Pluto was discovered in 1930 by the American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona and named by an English schoolgirl in a competition. Seven* months into the craft’s journey Pluto was downgraded to dwarf planet, in response to revised definitions of various space bodies. Now that the scientists have discovered it is slightly larger than first thought, they are considering upgrading it to its former status. This is just as well, as it may be that our scientists are about to find out what Pluto itself thinks about this humiliating demotion and removal of full planet status all those years ago. It may decide to fling a single particle of high velocity rice-sized dust at the New Horizons probe in displeasure and retribution, although I think that by that time the craft will be safely out in the far reaches of the solar system and on its way towards interstellar space, all the while quietly downlinking all of its store of data to its masters at the US Space Agency, thus feeding the insatiable appetite of our scientists and astronomers for information on this last and furthest outpost of our solar system. (881 words)
* Keep the hook very clear, so that it does not look like "several" which would also make sense
|Amazing atmospheric image of Pluto rising over one of its moon's horizons -|
it's been on my shorthand dictionary for the past 40 years