Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Pluto & Pentaquarks

So the 14th July 2015 has been a good day for physics & space science: CERN announced the discovery a new particle, the 'pentaquark', and NASA's New Horizons probe has made its closest approach to the dwarf planet Pluto completing our exploration of the original 9 planets. So without further ado let's get into the nitty gritty of the science!

CERN have announced the detection of pentaquark particles at the LHC. These are composed of 4 quarks & an antiquark, essentially a baryon (3 quarks with colour charge RBG adding up to colourless) bound to a  meson (a quark-antiquark pair). Not as fundamental as the Higgs Boson discovery but a nice find nonetheless!

Pluto used to be 9th planet and was demoted in 2006 to 'dwarf planet' for reasons which I personally think are very sensible. It should be said that the whole debate is just semantics and a lot of people, even notable scientists, would disagree - the late great Sir Patrick Moore would've kept Pluto as a planet. So there will be no explanation of it's new categorisation here!

New Horizons was launched in 2006, and is the fastest spacecraft ever launched. Even at 84,000km/h (52,000km/h) it took 9 years to reach its target. The probe is going so fast and Pluto's gravity is so weak it could not possibly go into orbit, instead it has sailed past and will head on out into the Kuiper Belt, joining the Voyager probes in their exploration of the outer solar system and beyond.

So here it is, in glorious colour (looking surprisingly red and Mars-like):

Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI 

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