It’s pretty rough being the celestial body known as Pluto, or as I like to call him, P-Dawg (okay, I don’t call Pluto that). Over the years, Pluto has been a full blown planet, an escaped moon of Neptune, a dwarf planet, and as it’s known today, a plutoid. But it seems science can’t even agree on that designation, with factions demanding it be made a planet again, and some insisting that dwarf planet is the correct designation. There are also scientists who insist dwarf planet is incorrect, and it should just be considered part of the Kuiper Belt, a group of large objects orbiting the sun beyond the planet Neptune. Pluto shares residency in the Kuiper Belt with fellow dwarf planets Haumea and Makemake.
There is no denying that Pluto is easily one of the more beloved objects in our solar system. Back in 2006 when the International Astronomical Union (IAU) decided to downgrade its planetary status, it became quite a public debate, with people refusing to acknowledge its new status. It even led to New Mexico officially declaring that the state would always refer to Pluto as a planet. It honestly became a bit of a silly debate, driven more by sentimentality than science; however, many astronomers also felt that the IAU was being hasty in their decision.
Planet or not, Pluto still has a lot of interesting secrets to share with the scientific community, making it a destination for the New Horizons spacecraft sent by NASA to investigate it and other large objects in the Kuiper Belt. Launched on January 19, 2006, New Horizons (which has been 3D printed!) finally reached its first destination earlier this week and sent back the clearest image of Pluto to date, as well as a host of vital information regarding its topography, its elemental make-up and several of its orbiting moons. These new, high-quality pictures replace the blurry blobs of previous attempts to capture Pluto’s image, and answer questions that have plagued astronomers since its discovery in 1930.
“Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important. The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations,” explained associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate John Grunsfeld.
Mechanical Engineer, space nerd and 3D printing enthusiast Todd Blatt was inspired by the new detailed images coming back to Earth from New Horizons and decided to commemorate them as a 3D printable plaque. Blatt took the 2D image and used Meshmixer to turn it into a 3D relief. It can be modified to hang on a wall, or on the base, which will easily support it while it sits on a display shelf. You can download the .stl file here directly from Tinkerine.
Blatt is currently working on a video tutorial showing how he turned the 2D image into a 3D relief, and he’s also released this quick video showcasing his creation and design process:
Not only did NASA discover a relatively young range of 11,000 foot high mountains that suggest Pluto’s surface may be geologically active. Because Pluto isn’t capable of being heated by gravitational interactions with larger planetary bodies, NASA scientists insist that some other process is currently forming the mountainous regions. Aside from mountains, New Horizons also was able to get its closest look ever at Pluto’s multiple moons. Including its largest moon Charon, as well as his smaller brothers Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.
Now that New Horizons has completed its work, the data will be sifted through by NASA and the piano-sized probe will move further into the Kuiper belt. The probe will transmit valuable information required to understand the several large objects that roam at the fringes of our solar system. Tell us what you think of the new images of Pluto over in our 3D Printed New Horizons Image of Pluto forum thread located at 3DPB.com.