New Pluto pictures show jelly-bean moon and mountains


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Newly-discovered frozen peaks on Pluto are taller than Ben Nevis while images of Nix reveal an unusual red spot

Newly-discovered frozen peaks on Pluto are taller than Ben Nevis while images of Nix reveal an unusual red spot

The latest pictures to be beamed back from the far reaches of the Solar System show a new mountain range on Pluto and the first close up images of two of the dwarf-planet’s smaller moons.

Animated Flyover of Pluto’s Icy Mountain

NASA’s New Horizons probe has discovered a new, mountain range on bright, heart-shaped region named Tombaugh Region.

These newly-discovered frozen peaks are estimated to be around 5,000ft high – about 600ft taller than Ben Nevis.

The Norgay Mountains discovered by New Horizons on July 15 are much taller, around 11,000ft, roughly the height of The Pyrenees.

The new range is just west of the region within Pluto’s heart called Sputnik Plain and some 68 miles northwest of Norgay Mountains..

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New Horizons has also picked up the first images large images of two of Pluto’s smaller moons.
Nix and Hydra – the second and third moons to be discovered – are approximately the same size, but their similarity ends there.

New Horizons’ first colour image of Nix shows a jelly bean shaped satellite which is 26 miles long and 22 miles wide.

Although the overall surface colour of Nix is neutral grey in the image, the newfound region has a distinct red tint. Hints of a bull’s-eye pattern lead scientists to speculate that the reddish region is a crater.

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Meanwhile, the sharpest image yet received from New Horizons of Pluto’s satellite Hydra shows that its irregular shape resembles the state of Michigan.

There appear to be at least two large craters, one of which is mostly in shadow. The upper portion looks darker than the rest of Hydra, suggesting a possible difference in surface composition.

Source: Telegraph

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Stunning first hi-definition image of Pluto reveals huge mountains


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The first ever high-resolution image of Pluto has been beamed back to Earth showing water ice and 11,000ft (3,350 metre) mountains. The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago – mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system. Nasa says they may still be in the process of building

Like the rest of Pluto, this region would presumably have been pummeled by space debris for billions of years and would have once been heavily cratered – unless recent activity had given the region a facelift, erasing those pockmarks.

‘We now have an isolated small planet that is showing activity after 4.5 billion years,’ said Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator. ‘It’s going to send a lot of geophysicists back to the drawing board.’

‘This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,’ added Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI).

This is the first time astronomers have seen a world that is mostly composed of ice that is not orbiting a planet.

Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by the gravitational pull of a larger planetary body. Nasa says some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.

‘This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,’ says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute.

In a Wednesday press conference, scientists also revealed a high-resolution photo of Pluto’s moon Charon, which is covered in cliffs and ridges:

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They also released the first-ever photo of Pluto’s tiny moon Hydra, which appears to be covered in water ice:

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A new sneak-peak image of Hydra  is the first to reveal its apparent irregular shape and its size, estimated to be about 27 by 20 miles (43 by 33km). The surface shows differences in brightness, which suggests that Hydra’s outer layer is composed manly of water ice .

Read more: Daily Mail

The New Horizons Pluto mission is a big deal. Here are Some reasons why


SOURCE : vox.com 

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is about to show us an alien world for the first time. At precisely 7:49 am ET on Tuesday, the probe will become the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto.

New Horizons has been en route for nine years, traveling more than 3 billion miles. The flyby will be over in a matter of minutes, as the probe frantically takes hundreds of photos and collects data on Pluto’s atmosphere, geology, and moons. All this data will be enormously valuable to scientists as they seek to understand our solar system and how it formed billions of years ago.

More than anything, this mission is about broadening our horizons — taking in just a little bit more of the impossibly vast universe we live in.

1) We’ve never seen Pluto before

Pluto feels familiar. It’s easy to imagine the small, frigid rock, millions of miles from the sun and covered in ice.

But what you’re picturing in your head when you think about Pluto is probably an artist’s illustration. Until very recently, we didn’t even know exactly what color it was — and the best photos we had of Pluto looked like this:

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New Horizons is going to change that in a very big way. Already, as it’s closed in on Pluto, it’s given us way better photos than ever before:

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Pluto (right) and its moon Charon, as seen by New Horizons on July 11. (NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI)

The high-resolution photos to come will give us detailed topographical maps, just like those provided by the satellites that orbit Earth. They could reveal mountains, ice caps, volcanoes, or even an ocean of liquid water under the ice. “Who knows what kind of bizarre things we’ll find up close?” Stern said.

2) This mission will remind you how vast space really is

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Earth, as seen by the Voyager spacecraft, from more than 4 billion miles away.

We spend our entire lives on the surface of Earth — so it’s hard to really grasp how far away Pluto truly is from us.

But as an analogy, think of Earth as a basketball. By comparison, Pluto would be a little larger than a golf ball. But if you wanted to keep the scale constant, you’d have to put that golf ball incredibly far away: 50 to 80 miles (depending on its location in orbit). This mission, like many activities in space, is a good reminder of how vast our corner of the universe is — and how absurdly tiny our entire earthly realm of experience is by comparison.

And it’s not just the size of space that boggles the mind. It’s also the timescale on which everything occurs. Pluto takes 248 Earth years to orbit the sun. To put it another way, the entirety of US history has occurred during a single Plutonian orbit.

3) We won’t get many more missions like this for a while

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There’s a mission to Europa planned, but it won’t reach the moon for a decade or more.

The past few decades have been filled with all sorts of fascinating missions to the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets of our solar system — uncrewed probes sent every few years, run by trained scientists, and supported by government funding.

But the sad truth is that this era is largely drawing to a close. As David W. Brown writes in an article on the dark future of American space exploration, “There is nothing budgeted in the pipeline to take its place. Yesterday invested in today. But we are not investing in tomorrow.”

This is the result of cutbacks to NASA’s planetary exploration budget. The OSIRIS-REx probe will launch next year, to travel to an asteroid and bring back a sample, but it won’t return until 2023. Meanwhile, a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa is in the works, but it likely won’t be launched until 2025 at the earliest, and wouldn’t reach Europa until the 2030s.

In other words: Enjoy this brief flyby. It’s going to be a while before any NASA probe visits a new world.

4)This is a staggering technological achievement

t’s hard to appreciate just how difficult it is to send a spacecraft to Pluto. But think of it this way: because it’s so incredibly far away, it took New Horizons nine years to cover the 3-billion-mile trip there — which means the craft is using decade-old technology, traveling a route that was calculated years ago.

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New Horizons’ trajectory through the solar system.

Despite this, NASA engineers managed to get the tiny probe — about the size and shape of a grand piano — to an incredibly precise spot in space, using Jupiter’s gravity as a slingshot to accelerate it outward and a few thruster burns over the years to keep the probe on track.

Along the way, they had to worry about potentially damaging debris nearby Pluto — as well as a scary software glitch this past weekend, which was, thankfully, resolved. Now New Horizons is going to fly within 7,750 miles of Pluto, coming closer than its moons.

Because New Horizons is traveling at such a high speed (about 31,000 miles per hour) and can’t slow down, the flyby will be over in a matter of minutes — fording it to collect all its data in a tiny window of time.

And receiving all that data is another huge challenge. Because New Horizons is so far away, it takes about 4.5 hours for any data it sends back to reach Earth. And the signal is so faint that NASA has to use 200-foot-wide radio dishes (one each in Australia, California, and Spain) to pick it up. This means an extremely low rate of data transmission: about 1 kilobit per second, more than 50 times slower than a 56k modem from the ’90s. It takes more than 42 minutes for New Horizons to fully transmit an image that’s 1024 pixels wide.

If you haven’t been paying attention so far, now’s the time to start. This is a really big deal.

CHARON’S IMPACT CRATER EMERGES IN LATEST NEW HORIZONS SHOT


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NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

IN THE IMAGE NASA released of Charon yesterday, astronomers pointed out a collection of vaguely-defined features on the surface of Pluto’s biggest moon. Now, with this latest capture, the New Horizons team has confirmed that the big dent in the icy rock’s surface is in fact an impact crater, surrounded by a couple of deep canyons—one larger than Earth’s Grand Canyon.

Get ready for even more detailed images of Charon and its orbital buddy, Pluto, tomorrow morning when New Horizons makes its closest approach to the system. Geologists will be especially interested to take a closer look at the dark spot on the moon’s northern pole, and the rays of material you can see spraying out from the edges of the crater.

Source :Wired

New Horizons’ Pluto Approach Hyped in Epic Video


Dark Matter Space Blogger
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Artistic Depiction of Pluto 

The National Space Society put together an incredible video preview of the history-making moment. It has the vibe of a movie trailer, complete with epic narration and stunning visuals, and it perfectly captures why space enthusiasts are so psyched about the New Horizons mission.

The video sweeps you through a timeline of the last half century of space exploration using beautiful images of each planet we’ve explored, starting with Venus in 1962 and ending with Neptune in 1989.

New Horizons will reach Pluto and its moons on July 14, and they will be “the farthest worlds ever to be explored by humankind,” the video says.

So far that the sun appears as a faint dot.

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Here is the Video,

Source : businessinsider

Pluto’s five moons captured on camera for first time EVER


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PLUTO’S five moons have been captured on camera for the first time EVER as a NASA probe nears the dwarf planet.

The historic moment was recorded by NASA’s New Horizons probe, which is exploring Pluto and beyond.

Previously the probe has only caught footage of Pluto, which was previously downgraded from its status as a full planet, as well as its largest moon Charon and two of its smallest moons – Hydra and Nix.

However, now, Kerberos and Styx, the dwarf planet’s smallest and faintest moons, are also visible.

Detecting these tiny moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera and John Spencer’s team of moon and ring hunters.

Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator

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John Spencer, programme scientist of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, said: “New Horizons is now on the threshold of discovery. If the spacecraft observes any additional moons as we get closer to Pluto, they will be worlds that no one has seen before.”

NASA said initial viewing appeared to show only four moons visible in the footage, but Charon is also in the images – although it blends into the bright centre of imagery.

Pluto’s four smaller moons were discovered by scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope.

Nix and Hydra were found in 2005, while Kerberos and Styx were discovered more recently in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

The unmanned New Horizons probe will start looking for any more more moons and rings around Pluto this month.

However, astronomers fear previously unseen objects in the dwarf planet’s vicinity may put the spacecraft in jeopardy as it heads toward its closest approach in July – and navigators will be very cautious as it nears.

Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, said: “Detecting these tiny moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera and John Spencer’s team of moon and ring hunters.”

New Horizons was launched towards Pluto in 2006.

Once the probe flies past Pluto and its moons on July 14, the spacecraft will continue flying farther from Earth, investigating other cold bodies past the dwarf planet.

Source : Express.co.uk

This Is The First Ever Color Picture of Pluto


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New Horizons spacecraft is now only three months away from its historic sweep through the Pluto-Charon system in mid-July. First image in color!

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft acquired its first picture of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in color on April 9. It’s the first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach. Neither Pluto nor Charon is well resolved here, but their distinctly different appearances can already be seen. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft team released this tantalizing first color image of Pluto and its Texas-sized moon Charon. The team called this image a preliminary reconstruction, which they said will be refined later. The spacecraft acquired the image from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers)-roughly the distance from the sun to Venus. New Horizons is now only three months from its historic encounter with Pluto. The flyby through the Pluto system will take place on July 14, at which time the spacecraft will deliver color images that eventually show surface features as small as a few miles across.

New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched and may be the only spacecraft to sweep past Pluto in our lifetimes. It has traveled a longer time and farther away – more than nine years and three billion miles (4.8 billion km) – than any space mission in history to reach the Pluto system, which consists of the dwarf planet and its five known moons.

NASA pointed out that New Horizons’ flyby of the Pluto system on July 14 will:

… complete the initial reconnaissance of the classical solar system. This mission also opens the door to an entirely new ‘third’ zone of mysterious small planets and planetary building blocks in the Kuiper Belt, a large area with numerous objects beyond Neptune’s orbit.

Principal investigator Alan Stern said the mission would mark the first up-close look at a binary planet. He called Pluto a binary because its large moon Charon is so nearly like Pluto in size.

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Between now and July 14, New Horizons will get closer and closer to Pluto and its moons, and the image quality will rapidly improve. At closest approach, New Horizons will sweep through the Pluto system at a speed of 30,000 mph (50,000 kilometers per hour).

Source : EarthSky.org

NASA spacecraft sends historic Pluto images


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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has sent its first stunning images of Pluto as the probe closes in on the dwarf planet.

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New Horizons was more than 203 million km away from Pluto when it began taking images, the US space agancy said in a statement.

Although still just a dot along with its largest moon, Charon, the images come on the 109th birthday of Clyde Tombaugh who discovered the distant icy world in 1930.

“My dad would be thrilled with New Horizons,” said Clyde Tombaugh’s daughter Annette Tombaugh, of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“To actually see the planet that he had discovered, and find out more about it — to get to see the moons of Pluto — he would have been astounded. I am sure it would have meant so much to him if he were still alive today,” she added.

The new images, taken with New Horizons’ telescopic Long—Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), are the first acquired during the spacecraft’s 2015 approach to the Pluto system which culminates with a close flyby of Pluto and its moons July 14.

Over the next few months, LORRI will take hundreds of pictures of Pluto, against a starry backdrop, to refine the team’s estimates of New Horizons’ distance to Pluto.

As in these first images, the Pluto system will resemble little more than bright dots in the camera’s view until late spring.

“Pluto is finally becoming more than just a pinpoint of light,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

“The dwarf planet will continue to grow larger and larger in the images as New Horizons spacecraft hurtles toward its targets. The new LORRI images also demonstrate that the camera’s performance is unchanged since it was launched more than nine years ago,” Weaver said.

Source: thehindu

NASA prepares to wake New Horizons ahead of historic Pluto flyby


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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft comes out of hibernation on December 6 at 3:00 pm EST. Now about 2.9 billion miles (4.6 billion km) from Earth, and 162 million miles (260 million km) from Pluto, the spacecraft will be put through a month-long preparation for its six month flyby of Pluto, with the primary phase of the mission slated to begin on January 15.

New Horizons’ current state of hibernation means that most of the spacecraft’s systems are shut down except for monitors and a weekly beacon-status transmission. So far, the probe has gone through 18 hibernation phases since it launched in 2006. This works out to 1,873 days in hibernation or two-thirds of the Pluto flyby mission.

The hibernation technique, which NASA pioneered, is a way of conserving onboard resources, cutting down on mission control personnel time, reducing time on NASA’s Deep Space Network, and saving wear and tear on the spacecraft’s electronics. New Horizons was reawoken periodically over the years to check the systems, rehearse the flyby, perform course corrections, and upload software updates. Last August, the probe was programmed to wake up on the scheduled December date. NASA says that 90 minutes after coming back online, New Horizons will transmit a confirmation back to Earth. However, this signal will not reach Earth for 4 hours and 25 minutes due to the enormous distances involved.

Once out of hibernation, mission control will put New Horizons through its final system checks and course corrections, download science data, and write and upload software updates. During the flyby, the probe will use its suite of seven scientific instruments to map Pluto, study its topology, temperatures, geology, and composition, as well as study the planet’s moons and search for additional satellites.

One particular reason for the missions timing is that Pluto is currently in its late “summer” and scientists want to take the opportunity to study the planet’s atmosphere before it freezes again during its century-long winter. New Horizon’s instruments includes an advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, compact multicolor camera, high-resolution telescopic camera, two particle spectrometers, space-dust detector, and two radio experiments.

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Real picture of Pluto and its Moon Charon taken by New Horizons

The US$650 million New Horizons mission was launched January 19, 2006 atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The unmanned 478 kg (1,054 lb) nuclear-powered spacecraft was sent on a 9.5-year mission to fly by Pluto and then on to study selected objects in the Kuiper Belt. Sent on a slingshot trajectory using the gravitational pull of Jupiter, New Horizons passed the orbit of Neptune on August 24 and will rendezvous with Pluto on July 14 of next year, which it will pass at a distance of 13,000 km (8,000 mi).

According to NASA, the mission was fast tracked due to the increasing knowledge about the Kuiper Belt. Since Pluto is the most accessible object originating from there, it seemed a logical way to gain direct information. In addition, it is the first mission sent to the only unvisited planet (if you’re old school) in the Solar System.

NASA says that the flight team will be kept busy even after the flyby, because so much data will have been recorded that it won’t all be transmitted to Earth until October 2016.

“We’ve worked years to prepare for this moment,” says Mark Holdridge, New Horizons encounter mission manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. “New Horizons might have spent most of its cruise time across nearly three billion miles of space sleeping, but our team has done anything but, conducting a flawless flight past Jupiter just a year after launch, putting the spacecraft through annual workouts, plotting out each step of the Pluto flyby and even practising the entire Pluto encounter on the spacecraft. We are ready to go.”

Source : gizmag