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Hubble observations of dwarf planets and asteroids
Max Mutchler
Research & Instrument Scientist
Space Telescope Science Institute
Baltimore, Maryland
Florida Institute of Technology colloquium (and Homecoming)
2 November 2012
Launch of the
Hubble Space
April 24, 1990
Hubble servicing mission 1
December 1993
Wide Field Planetary Camera 2
Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS)
was installed in 2002…and failed in 2007
Hubble Servicing Mission 4
11 May 2009
5 days of
Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) installed
Goddard Spaceflight Center…16-hour shift during the ACS repair and first tests!
Hubble “first light” after SM4
13 June 2009
Starburst galaxy NGC 6217
Hubble observations
of dwarf planets
and large asteroids
in support of other
Waiting for their spaceships to come in…
…and maybe then we’ll be better able to
define the word “planet”?
Hubble imaging of asteroid 21 Lutetia
in support of the Rosetta mission
An optical “ghost”
(not a moon)
Hubble images reveal
two new moons of Pluto
Pluto on 15 May 2005
Hubble images reveal
two new moons of Pluto
Pluto on 15 May 2005
Hubble images reveal
two new moons of Pluto
Pluto on 18 May 2005
Hubble images reveal
two new moons of Pluto
Pluto on 15 and 18 May 2005
Hubble images reveal
two more moons of Pluto
(yes, we are working on
better names for P4 and P5)
Could there be any hazards for the New Horizons spacecraft
when it flies through the Pluto system on 14 July 2015?
Final Resolution for GA-XXVI:
Definition of a Planet
24 August 2006
The IAU therefore resolves that planets and other bodies in our Solar System, except
satellites, be defined into three distinct categories in the following way:
(1) A “planet” is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for
its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium
(nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.
(2) A “dwarf planet” is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient
mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic
equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and
(d) is not a satellite.
(3) All other objects, except satellites, orbiting the Sun shall be referred to collectively as
“Small Solar System Bodies”.
Pluto is a "dwarf planet" by the above definition and is recognized as the prototype of a new
category of trans-Neptunian objects. For now, Charon is considered just to be Pluto’s moon.
The idea that Charon might qualify to be called a dwarf planet on its own, may be considered
Dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto:
The “ugly duckling” problem of being the first of an entire class
Asteroid Belt
Kuiper Belt
Discovered 1801-1851
Discovered in 1992…or 1930?
Asteroid history and mystery
• Ceres, Vesta, Pallas,
discovered in early 1800s
• Called planets for 50
years, then re-classified:
any déjà vu ?
• Key to understanding
Solar System formation
…and us
• Giveth: our oceans?
• Taketh away: Killed the
dinosaurs? Still a threat?
• Exploration with Hubble,
Dawn…and astronauts?
dwarf planet
(small solar system body)
Why does roundness matter ?
Vesta’s impact crater
Big collisions in the
early Solar System
• Earth-Moon formation
• Pluto and moons
• Vesta impact: created
50 smaller asteroids,
20% of meteorites…
and any moons?
So Vesta should
have moons, right?
Satellite search
with Hubble’s
WFPC2 camera…
Hill sphere
(orbital stability zone)
…and with Dawn
as it approached
in July 2011
Dawn spent a year in polar orbit around
Vesta, before leaving for Ceres.
Over the last 16 years, Hubble
observations have helped refine
Vesta’s pole position, which gave Dawn
extra time to do science, rather than
making orbit adjustments.
A more accurate knowledge of the pole
position also helped identify when the
extreme latitudes had the best possible
solar illumination for imaging.
Improved Measurement of asteroid 4 Vesta’s rotational axis orientation
Jian-Yang Li,, Peter C. Thomas, Brian Carcich, Max J. Mutchler,
Lucy A. McFadden, Christopher T. Russell, Stacy S. Weinstein-Weiss,
Marc D. Rayman, Carol A. Raymond , 2010, Icarus
Asteroid and comet impacts may have delivered water and
organic material to Earth – the stuff of life.
But does the water add up?
Water Ice Discovered on Asteroid for First Time
By Clara Moskowitz Senior Writer
28 April 2010
Water ice has been found on the surface of a nearby asteroid for the first
time – a discovery that could help explain how Earth got its oceans.
Two teams of researchers independently verified that the asteroid 24
Themis – a large rock hurtling through space in the asteroid belt between
Mars and Jupiter – is coated in a layer of frost. They also found that the
asteroid contains organic material, including some molecules that might
be ingredients for life.
The discovery might even provide clues about the origin of water on
Earth. "Our data are certainly at least consistent with the idea that you
could bring in plenty of water from impacts,“ said Andrew Rivkin of Johns
Hopkins University.
Asteroid Scheila:
a “Main Belt Comet” ?
In the wee hours of December 11th, University
of Arizona astronomer Steve Larson was on
cosmic patrol with the Catalina Sky Survey's
Schmidt telescope. That's when he noticed
something odd about the appearance of the
main-belt asteroid 596 Scheila. The asteroid
was clearly fuzzy, with a soft glow extending a
few arcminutes to the west and north. Other
astronomers quickly confirmed the cometary
appearance. If Scheila is truly a long-dormant
comet, then it's a big one: current estimates put
its diameter at 70 miles (113 km).
"It's a main-belt comet, although I don't know
what type yet," Dave Jewitt explains. He says it
could have resulted from an impact (as
occurred earlier this year with P/2010 A2) or
outgassing (as occurs on 133P/Elst-Pizarro).
Artists’s impression of a smaller asteroid colliding with
much bigger asteroid Scheila
A comet in the asteroid belt?
No, an asteroid collision…
Research by William F. Bottke, David Vokrouhlicky and David
Nesvorny suggests that the impactor believed to have wiped out
the dinosaurs and other life forms on Earth 65 million years ago
can been traced back to a breakup event in the main asteroid belt.
NASA's New Asteroid Mission Could Save the Planet
By Tariq Malik Managing Editor
16 April 2010
President Barack Obama set a lofty next goal this week for Americans in space:
Visiting an asteroid by 2025. But reaching a space rock in a mere 15 years is a
daunting mission, and one that might also carry the ultimate safety of the planet on
its shoulders.
Astrophysicist John Grunsfeld – a former NASA astronaut who three shuttle
missions to fix the Hubble Space Telescope – suggested sending humans to
purposely move an asteroid, to nudge the space rock to change its trajectory. Such a
feat, he said, would show that humanity could deflect a space rock if one threatened
to crash into the planet.
There are secrets locked away on asteroids that may hold the key to understanding
the formation of the solar system. Asteroids are the thought to be the leftover
remnants of the solar system's buildings blocks. The organic molecules and
compounds on them may offer clues on how life began on Earth, and if it's possible
elsewhere in the universe.
A human mission
(or a mining operation)
to a near-Earth asteroid ?
Illustration: IHMC
Citation from IAU Minor Planet Circular 56612 on the naming of
Asteroid “6815 Mutchler”
A relatively recent flood of discoveries in the Solar System have ignited debate over how the collection of
all Solar System bodies are defined and classified. While the classification debate may seem somewhat
semantic, and focused mainly on the question, “What is a planet?”, the defining characteristics of many
small bodies seems a bit blurrier than ever before.
The Hubble Space Telescope (HST), owing to its unmatched combination of resolution and sensitivity,
has played a unique role in studying some of the Solar System objects in question. This talk will review
what is being learned from Hubble observations of dwarf planets Pluto and Ceres, the large asteroid or
"protoplanet" Vesta, and some peculiar comets and "active asteroids".
Max Mutchler has been working on the Hubble Space Telescope for over 22 years -- the entire mission. Max was hired
just two weeks before the launch of Hubble in 1990, and just a few months before completing an M.S. degree in Space
Sciences from FIT. Thanks to the proximity of FIT to the Kennedy Space Center, he was able to witness the launch of
Hubble, and his own career, from the VIP site at Banana Creek.
Max is a Research and Instrument Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, on the campus of Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore. He is currently focused on managing a group of 35 analysts and scientists, but he continues to
make a range of contributions to the Hubble mission.
Max is an expert on Hubble’s cameras. He is a member of the Hubble Heritage team, which has produced many of the
iconic images that Hubble is famous for. Max also specializes in observations of Solar System objects, often in support of
planetary missions such as New Horizons (en route to Pluto) and Dawn (currently exploring the Asteroid Belt). He is a
member of the team that has discovered several new moons of Pluto, including one last July. Asteroid “6815 Mutchler”
was named in honor of Max’s role in these discoveries. This work was featured as the cover story for the August 2006
edition of Florida Tech Today.
Max is also involved in a range of educational outreach activities, which has recently included citizen science, tactile
images with Braille captions, and the first-ever astronomical star party on the South Lawn of the White House.
Max’s wife Julie Ayers was an adjunct instructor in the Humanities Department during their time at FIT, and they live in
Baltimore with their two teenage children.