Proposal to NASA: “New Frontiers class” Mission to Pluto

1.0 Introduction

This section of my research proposal provides an overview of study background, problem statement, objectives, and significance of the study to complete science goals.

1.1 Study Background

Pluto was discovered in the year 1930 by an astronomer from the United States. During its discovery, it was known as the smallest planet in the solar system and ninth from the sun. Averagely, Pluto is approximately 3.6 billion miles, translating to about 5.8 billion kilometers away from the sun (Malhotra 18). Additionally, Pluto always revolves round the sun in an oval racetrack, and this is always as a result of its oval orbit. Pluto occupies a region in the space called the Kuiper Belt; a region that harbors myriads of small icy objects that resemble Pluto.

With regards to width, Pluto is approximately 1400 miles, 2300 kilometers, and takes it 248 days to go round the sun whiles a single day on Pluto translates to about 6 and a half days on earth(Malhotra 20). However, in the recent past, scientists and researchers have strongly insisted that Pluto is not habitable since its distance from the sun could have caused the extremely low temperature. Pluto is considered to be the coldest planet with temperatures as lower as -2750c. Similarly, astronomers think that the distance 2300 kilometers is too high and this may make it difficult for individuals who have the interest of inhabiting Pluto to travel and establish their new lives in Pluto.

1.2 Problem Statement

The several discoveries by astronomer about Pluto have paved way for other astronomers to conduct studies to determine the specific factors that make a planet habitable and why Pluto may not be habitable. Groups of astronomers have conducted various studies to decide whether or not Pluto is habitable with a focus on the planet’s distance from the sun, surface composition, and temperatures. Based on these studies and some of the characteristic identified above, Pluto is in most cases recognized as a dwarf planet; a characteristic that differentiate it from other life supporting planets like earth and mars, or any other planet for that matter. Pluto is as well called plutoid; a name used to identify dwarf planets that are further than the planet Neptune. With this research it will be possible to explore Pluto in ways that will improve people’s understanding about the factors that may or may not make life possible in Pluto. In other words, the study is set to provide important information about specific characteristics that may make Pluto habitable or not habitable.

1.3 Research Objectives

1.3.1 General objective

  • To determine whether Pluto is habitable or not

1.3.2 Specific Objective

  • To determine whether Pluto is geologically active;
  • To determine whether there is a sub-surface ocean in Pluto;
  • To determine the origin of Charon or Pluto; and

1.4 Research Hypothesis

H0: Base on the explored characteristics, Pluto is not habitable

H1: Based on the explored characteristics, Pluto is habitable

1.5 Significance of the study to completing science goals

For several decades, societies have remained indifferent following the contradicting statements about the nature, characteristics, and classification of Pluto as a habitable planet. By conducting a study about the characteristics of Pluto and comparing these characteristics to those of other planets like earth and mars, it would be possible to eliminate some of the doubts about Pluto being one of the ten planets that can be inhabited. As one of the agencies in the US charged with the responsibility of exploring the civilian space programs, NASA’s operations should focus on scientifically proven evidences for the purposes of understanding the solar system alongside providing precise and accurate classification of objects within the solar system.

2.0 Literature review

Is Pluto geologically active and why?

As scientists talk of Pluto being geologically active, they simply mean the following; mountain building processes, flows that involve the volcanoes, earthquakes, both forms of erosion as in wind and water are still active process in Pluto (Buie, et al). So when planetary talk about “geologically activity” at Pluto, they are referring to some activity that is driven by forces from within that is affecting and changing the appearance of Pluto.  The study, of whether or not Pluto is geologically active, baffled a lot of scientists when it was discovered. For a period of time, scientists that were working under NASA had assumed that Pluto was not a geographically active planet.

However, this was not the result after NASA conducted a historic flyby of Pluto. Data that streamed in from the New Horizon proved that Pluto was actually geologically active. Scientists that conducted this flyby announced the presence of Ice Mountains and actively resurfacing planes in Pluto (Gulbis, et al). According to Allan Stern, the Pluto systems surprised many scientists in many ways, most notably the study taught them that small planets could as well remain active billions of years after their formation. However, up to date, scientists have not yet developed a concrete reason as to why Pluto still remains geologically active. Some scientists argue that the reason that it still remains active is its ability to release its own heat from within which in turn is responsible for activities such volcanic eruptions.

Is Pluto habitable?

Research and findings from scientists indicate clearly that Pluto might have a sub-surface ocean while the surface ocean is in form of frozen water. The extremely lower temperature in Pluto does not only have effect on surface water, but also means that other important liquids and gases like methane and nitrogen gas are in solid form. The fact that some of these gases and liquid compounds have lower freezing points than that of water reduce chances of people surviving in Pluto. However, if the icy surface of Pluto’s giant moon Charon cracked, analysis of the fractures could reveal if its interior is warm, perhaps warm enough to allow for human survival and successful habitation (Leonard 13). Pluto’s distance from the sun, almost 29 times that of the earth, that means its small size and remoteness makes it difficult for astronomers to observe the exact factors available that may support life.

Astronomers, led by Army Bar and Geoffrey contend that a highly stretched ocean is the most prominent factor that can be used to explain some of the characteristics that could be used to compare Pluto to earth (a habitable planet) (Leonard 13). They conducted a study on Pluto and Charon and resolved that attaining the current orbital status required either an ocean beneath Pluto or some sort of luck. The scientists also established that with ice layer that is approximately 100km in thickness, it would take some time for the interior layers to freeze and allow human survival. Can human beings adapt and be able to live under temperatures as lower as -2750C?

What is the origin of Charon?

Charon, also known as Pluto 1, was discovered in the United States Naval Observatory in the year 1978. Model work doneby Robin Canup recommended that Charon could have been made as a result of a collision around 4.5 billion years ago, much like the earth and the moon. In this model, a large Kuiper Belt object hit Pluto at high speed, destroying itself and castigating off much of Pluto’s outer mantle, and Charon emerged from the remains (Malhotra 23). However, such an impact should have resulted in an icier Charon and rockier Pluto than the scientists found. It is now believed that Pluto and Charon may have been two bodies that collided before going into orbit about each other. Nevertheless, the similarities in density between Pluto and Charon imply that the parent bodies were not completelyset apart when the impact occurred.

3.0 Methodology

3.1 Research design and location

This study is both explorative and descriptive in nature since it requires proper investigation of some of the existing literatures alongside making physical observations to understand the nature and characteristics of the Pluto. With the descriptive design, the study requires the researcher to travel to the Pluto and engage in observations.

3.2 Study approach

The researcher will engage mainly in observation, measurement, and analysis of some of the existing literatures.

  1. 3 Study instruments and there functions

3.3.1 Laser altimeter

A laser altimeter is used in measuring height above ground level in fixed-wing and rotatory aircraft. These laser modules vary range capability in order to suit the individual applications. As in, they vary from low flying aircrafts used to spray crops to integrated systems for assisted take-off and landing. On the other hand, laser altimeter provides a fully automated way of recording the height of different landscapes from an aircraft. A laser altimeter could be needed by the astronomers in order to take photographs and images of how Pluto looked like and stream them back to those on earth. It can also be used to correctly determine geographic features in 3D formats.

3.3.2 Radio science system

This is a system placed on the board of aircrafts for radio science purposes. The RSS is known to use radio motions to investigate a medium such as planetary atmosphere. The aircrafts in which the RSS is, transfers an extremely constant signal to the ground stations, receives such signals from ground locations. It is also known that because the signals transmitted limit the functions of the receiver, any alterations to these limitations are attributable to the transmission channels or to the virtual motion of the spacecraft.

3.3.3 Spectrometer

A spectrometer is an apparatus that is used to measure a spectrum. Through the graphical apparatus it would be possible to show the intensity of wavelength, frequency, energy, momentum or mass. Spectrometers are able to detect light intensity versus frequency. Other than this, spectrometers can as well be used to measure gamma radiations. Generally, spectrometers are used to determine and analyze activities within the atmosphere.

3.3.4 Dual imaging system

The dual imaging system can be used in a number of ways by astronomers. The machine is usually connected to the computer just through a single data line so as to work effectively, in this case, a dual imaging system can be used to analyze the physical and chemical properties of any space material. Additionally, a dual imaging system can be used to ascertain the hardness of metallographic structures, from the hardest material to the softest.

Works Cited

Buie, Marc W., et al. “Pluto and Charon with the Hubble Space Telescope. I. Monitoring global change and improved surface properties from light curves.” The Astronomical Journal 139.3 (2010): 1117.

Gulbis, A. A. S., et al. “Observations of a successive stellar occultation by Charon and graze by Pluto in 2011: Multiwavelength SpeX and MORIS data from the IRTF.” Icarus 246 (2015): 226-236.

Leonard, Frederick C. “The new planet Pluto.” Leaflet of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 1 (1930): 121.

Malhotra, Renu. “The origin of Pluto’s orbit: Implications for the Solar System beyond Neptune.” arXiv preprint astro-ph/9504036 (1995).

Materese, Christopher K., et al. “Ice Chemistry on Outer Solar System Bodies: Electron Radiolysis of N2-, CH4-, and CO-Containing Ices.” The Astrophysical Journal 812.2 (2015): 150.