Postal Service Celebrates NASA Discoveries With Brand-New Pluto Stamps

Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet nearly 10 years ago, but the tiny celestial body is just now receiving a consolation prize: its very own set of postage stamps. Yesterday, NASA debuted its new “Pluto—Explored!” Forever stamps, The New York Times reports. The two-stamp collection honors the historic New Horizons mission, and features a color-enhanced composite fly-by shot of the rocky planet and an artist’s rendering of the expedition’s spacecraft.

“The unveiling of these breathtaking new images of Pluto and our planets will be an exciting day for NASA and for all who love space exploration," Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “With the 2015 Pluto flyby, we’ve completed the initial reconnaissance of the solar system, and we’re grateful to the U.S. Postal Service for commemorating this historic achievement.” 

Along with the special Pluto stamps, NASA also announced a stamp collection called “Views of our Planets.” It includes eight stamps depicting our solar system’s major planets—Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Earth. Also introduced this year was a Global Forever stamp dedicated to Earth’s moon. (Keeping with the space theme, the postal service is releasing four Star Trek-themed stamps in honor of the franchise’s upcoming 50th anniversary this summer.)

According to Smithsonian, this isn’t the first time Pluto has graced a U.S. postage stamp. In 1991, the U.S. Postal Service released a series of 29-cent stamps featuring images of all the major planets (including the not-yet-demoted Pluto) and the moon. Each stamp included an image of the first spacecraft to explore them, except for Pluto. The stamp was instead emblazoned with the phrase “Pluto: Not Yet Explored.”

When the New Horizons craft launched in 2006, NASA scientists made sure the Pluto: Not Yet Explored stamp was on board. “For many years, people had waved that stamp around as sort of a call to arms—as a motivating graphic—‘Not yet explored,'” New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern told Astronomy Magazine. “That stamp had been in so many presentations by that point, I knew it would please people to have it go along.” As the New Horizons probe approached Pluto last July, Stern and his colleagues held up a poster of the Pluto stamp, with the words “Not” and “Yet” crossed out.

NASA’s new space stamps were dedicated last week at the World Stamp Show-NY, and went on sale yesterday in post offices and online. You’ll be able to buy the planet stamps in person, but the two Pluto stamps are sadly only available for digital purchase, or by calling 800-782-6724. Check them out below.

[h/t Nerdist]

All images courtesy of NASA. 

NASA, Getty Images
Watch Apollo 11 Launch
Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11
Vice President Spiro Agnew and former President Lyndon Johnson view the liftoff of Apollo 11
NASA, Getty Images

Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, on its way to the moon. In the video below, Mark Gray shows slow-motion footage of the launch (a Saturn V rocket) and explains in glorious detail what's going on from a technical perspective—the launch is very complex, and lots of stuff has to happen just right in order to get a safe launch. The video is mesmerizing, the narration is informative. Prepare to geek out about rockets! (Did you know the hold-down arms actually catch on fire after the rocket lifts off?)

Apollo 11 Saturn V Launch (HD) Camera E-8 from Spacecraft Films on Vimeo.

Astronomers Discover 12 New Moons Around Jupiter

As the largest planet with the largest moon in our solar system, Jupiter is a body of record-setting proportions. The fifth planet from the Sun also boasts the most moons—and scientists just raised the count to 79.

A team of astronomers led by Scott S. Sheppard of the Carnegie Institute for Science confirmed the existence of 12 additional moons of Jupiter, 11 of which are “normal” outer moons, according to a statement from the institute. The outlier is being called an “oddball” for its bizarre orbit and diminutive size, which is about six-tenths of a mile in diameter.

The moons were first observed in the spring of 2017 while scientists looked for theoretical planet beyond Pluto, but several additional observations were needed to confirm that the celestial bodies were in fact orbiting around Jupiter. That process took a year.

“Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant solar system objects, so we were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter while at the same time looking for planets at the fringes of our solar system,” Sheppard said in a statement.

Nine of the "normal" moons take about two years to orbit Jupiter in retrograde, or counter to the direction in which Jupiter spins. Scientists believe these moons are what’s left of three larger parent bodies that splintered in collisions with asteroids, comets, or other objects. The two other "normal" moons orbit in the prograde (same direction as Jupiter) and take less than a year to travel around the planet. They’re also thought to be chunks of a once-larger moon.

The oddball, on the other hand, is “more distant and more inclined” than the prograde moons. Although it orbits in prograde, it crosses the orbits of the retrograde moons, which could lead to some head-on collisions. The mass is believed to be Jupiter’s smallest moon, and scientists have suggested naming it Valetudo after the Roman goddess of health and hygiene, who happens to be the great-granddaughter of the god Jupiter.


More from mental floss studios