Tag Archives: dwarf planet

Highest Resolution Ever Images From Pluto

We have some amazing images coming in from New Horizons, and they are the highest resolution images we will see. But this is just the first! There will be a lot more coming. It would be great to post an image, but I won’t do that. Instead, watch this video. And I recommend watching it in full screen at full resolution.

We start off with a terrain that is very light and icy with some craters. But it appears that there’s a dark material in the craters. It appears it’s layered. Probably various ices. It then moves down into a badlands region, which wouldn’t look too out of place on Earth. Then it abruptly moves into a water ice region with polygonal shapes and what looks like a rippled terrain.

The surface of Pluto is absolutely fascinating. You can read the article here on New Horizons’ official page at NASA.

What do you think of this recent image?

2015’s Biggest Science Story

What do you think is the biggest science story of the year? 2015 isn’t over yet, but I think it’s safe to say that we have a very good candidate already.

My choice is New Horizons at the Pluto system. Pluto was expected to be a certain way, somewhat like Triton, but it turned out to be completely unique. It was unexpected. It’s likely to still be active, since there’s a huge area covered by ices, there are tall mountains, and the colouration is providing a lot of questions. One of the more recent pictures showed the atmosphere over a horizon that was lit by the sun, and the surface shows mountains. This is that image:

nh-apluto-wide-9-17-15-final_0Click the image to see a larger version. Or go here to see the full sized image.

There are still many months of images to download from New Horizons, so we’ll get to see many more surprises over the next year or so.

So, what’s your choice for biggest science news of 2015?

Beautiful New Image of Pluto’s Moon Charon

The New Horizons mission never ceases to amaze me. The most recent release from NASA about the mission is a full colour full globe view of Charon, Pluto’s largest moon. What you’ll see is a massive canyon down the middle, a red polar region, and what fascinates me is the horizon. It’s not at all smooth, but it shows how varied the surface is. Take a look.

High detail image of Charon in full colour.  Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
High detail image of Charon in full colour. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

If that isn’t enough, check out this image of Pluto and Charon together in full colour. Just look at how much red there is. Incredible!

Beautiful full colour image of Pluto and Charon. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Beautiful full colour image of Pluto and Charon. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

You can view the full images at the NASA story that I linked to above. However, these are pretty big images, so sorry if they take a while to load.

But they are amazing, aren’t they? It’s going to take a long time until we understand what’s going on there. How did they come to look like that? What processes were involved? And it seems that Pluto is likely to still be active. With so many more months of images and data to come in, we’re just going to have to settle for months of incredible views of Pluto and Charon.

What do you think of the latest images?

The Latest From Pluto Is Incredible

It’s been close to two months since New Horizons flew past Pluto, and only recently has it entered into the data transfer stage of the mission. It’ll take months for the images to be sent back to Earth. There’s a lot to send, and the best has yet to come.

But we got to see something special recently. Here’s a very detailed image, a mosaic of high resolution images that shows half of one hemisphere very clearly. It brings up a lot of questions, as it’s extremely dynamic. There are so many different kinds of geological features, it’s going to take a very long time to unravel the history of what we see.

nh-spherical-mosaic-9-10-15Amazing, isn’t it? Click on it to see a higher resolution image.

You can read a bit about it at NASA’s website.

So, how impressed are you with these images?

Hello, Pluto. You Look Amazing.

Not too long ago, New Horizons passed by Pluto. It’s done, but New Horizons is still busy at work. It’ll be busy for a while collecting data and images of Pluto, Charon, Nix, Hydra, Styx, and Kerberos. But Pluto is the star here, and what an incredible journey it’s been. To be honest, I feel kind of speechless about this.

Earlier, I was checking Facebook while I was on break at work, and up popped this incredible image. It was one of the last images taken of Pluto before the flyby began. It was the clearest picture we have yet to see of Pluto, and it’s so hard to put in words what I was thinking when I saw it. Wow. I think that’s the word. Wow. I couldn’t stop looking at it.  I’ve now seen the image with my computer, and I still keep wanting to look at it. That is Pluto. Pluto!

I remember when New Horizons was launched. I was thinking that we’re finally going to see what Pluto looks like. I was hoping for something unique, something we’ve never seen before. I suspected it might look like Triton, considering it was a Kuiper Belt object. My thoughts about seeing Pluto felt kind of unreal. Like it was so far in the future, it was hard to imagine that moment. That moment has already passed, yet we haven’t seen the best images yet. Far from it. This latest image is pretty clear, and it shows a unique world like none we’ve ever seen before.

Say hello to Pluto.

Image Credit: NASA/APL/Southwest Research Institute
Image Credit: NASA/APL/Southwest Research Institute

Isn’t that incredible? Look at that huge bright area. And those dark regions. And you can see craters, complex features, and so much more. What are they? How were they created? Never mind that, just look at the image. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing images of Saturn’s unusual moon Hyperion, as well as the surface of Titan. But the anticipation of seeing Pluto was so great that the moment I saw this image, I said out loud with my coworker nearby, “Wow.”

Right now, New Horizons is taking images and data of Pluto and its moons, and is not communicating with Earth. In a few hours, it’ll send a message to Earth to signal that it has successfully completed its flyby. That moment will be a great relief, and will be the start of months of downloading from the probe and pure scientific research. And we’ll enjoy seeing the huge number of images that will have high enough resolution to see objects as small as one of the ponds in New York’s Central Park. That image further up this post is great, but we’ll be seeing far better images in the coming weeks. I can’t wait.

Congratulations NASA and the New Horizons team. This was worth the wait. Wow.

A Few Hours From Pluto

New Horizons is flying past Pluto in only a few hours. We’ve been receiving more images, though they will continue to be scant over the coming days. You see, as it’s passing Pluto, the camera will be focused on it and Charon, which means that the high gain antenna will not be pointed toward Earth. We have to wait for the good pictures.

However, we do have some new images. Here is the latest for Pluto.

Pluto on July 12, 2015.
Pluto on July 12, 2015.

As you can see, there are craters, the dark regions around the equator, and guess what? An ice cap! That’s right, Pluto has an ice cap of nitrogen and methane. That was predicted, and it seems it was correct. Also, the diameter has been discovered to be 2,370 km, which is larger than thought. In fact, it turns it out it’s larger than Eris. Pluto is the largest Kuiper belt object that we know of. One thing that’s remarkable to me, though, is the mottled surface. It looks a lot like Triton in that respect. You can also see the bright area on the left side is rotating into view. It’s going to be the focus of the high resolution images.

On to Charon, which I have neglected to talk about.  Here’s the latest from Pluto’s largest moon.

Charon on July 12, 2015.
Charon on July 12, 2015.

There’s an obvious crater in this image, and the pole is dark. I wonder why. But to the right of the bright crater is what looks like a chasm. This chasm is larger than the Grand Canyon.

So far, Charon looks like it could be found around a planet like Saturn with its chasm and grey appearance. We’ll see how it looks with higher resolution images in the coming days and weeks. Pluto, on the other hand, looks like it could be a cousin of Triton’s. Very interesting.

What’s surprised you so far about Pluto and Charon?

The Far Side of Pluto

If you’ve been following New Horizons and its journey past Pluto, then you’ve already seen this image. On July 11th, New Horizons took a picture of Pluto’s “far side,” or the side that will be opposite New Horizons as it passes Pluto. It’s the side we won’t get clear images of. That side is always facing Charon. This is the best image we will ever get (until another probe is sent to Pluto) of Pluto’s Charon-facing side.

nh-pluto-7-11-15The dark spots at the lower part of Pluto are what’s puzzling scientists. We won’t get a clear picture of what they are, unfortunately. They’re evenly spaced, and much darker than the rest of the dwarf planet. The other side of Pluto, the side we’ll get to see clearly, also has a dark patch, called “the whale,” but it’s much larger. It’s quite likely it’s the same geological feature as these smaller spots. If they’re totally smooth, the angle at which they’re oriented toward the sun would explain why they’re so dark. However, it could also be a material that is dark or less reflective. We should be able to see with “the whale” in a couple days.

Other features we see are some impact craters, which was expected. The side we’ll see should have more impact craters, which is very useful in determining the composition of the interior of Pluto. Also, there are some features that look like channels. What could those be? Fractures on the surface? Linear geysers like on Enceladus? Could Pluto be geologically active? With its close relationship with Charon, there should be some tidal flexing, but not so much, because they always keep the same faces towards each other.

New Horizons is currently in the flyby phase of its mission, and will be closest to Pluto in about 36 hours. We should see some amazing pictures of Pluto, Charon, and one of its smaller moons, Nix, in the coming days. The other moons will be low resolution, because New Horizons doesn’t come near them.

Over the following weeks and months, high resolution images will slowly arrive back on Earth, as New Horizons doesn’t exactly have a broadband connection. We should see surprising new images often, which makes this short flyby very rewarding. It won’t be everything all at once, followed by a feeling of “is that it?” We’ll keep getting new images, so that’s great.

My biggest question is how similar will Pluto look to Neptune’s moon Triton? They’re both Kuiper Belt objects, and are similar in size. This should be interesting.

What do you think the features on Pluto are?