The QVMAG Planetarium is partnering with astronomers from the Southwest Research Institute in the USA to carry out valuable observations of Pluto next Tuesday morning.
QVMAG Acting Director Andrew Johnson said US astronomers Jeff Regester and Charles Watson will gather data as Pluto briefly passes in front of a distant star just before 3am.
‘QVMAG Planetarium staff, including QVMAG astronomer Martin George, will monitor the changing light,’ said Mr Johnson.
Martin George described the event in which the star will fade gradually before being completely obscured as occurring for the same reason that the Sun and Moon appear much less bright when their light passes through more of our atmosphere at rising or setting.
As Pluto passes in front of the star, the astronomers will monitor the drop in the star’s light.
‘If the sky is clear, these observations will enable us to learn more about Pluto’s atmosphere, and even Pluto’s exact position in space.
‘The whole event, known as an occultation, will take little more than a minute,’ he said.
‘In addition, accurate timing of the event assists with information about the exact direction of Pluto in relation to the star,’ Mr George said.
This study enhances information gathered from prior observations. US Astronomer Jeff Regester said this is the third visit to Tasmania for such observations. Mr Regester said the occultation, in conjunction with the arrival of New Horizons at Pluto, is especially important.
‘The New Horizons spacecraft is the very first mission to Pluto, and will make a flyby on 14 July.
‘The Tasmanian observations, combined with results of the mission, will provide more information about Pluto,’ he said.
An additional six teams will make observations of the occultation at the Greenhill Observatory north of Hobart, on New Zealand’s North and South Islands, and at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales.
Demoted from planetary status in 2006, Pluto is now called a dwarf planet.
For further information
Irene Burlein, Media Officer
T 03 6323 3758