The long-awaited fly-by of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft, on 14 July 2015, was an event 85 years in the making, following Pluto’s discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Since then, Pluto has gone from planet to dwarf planet, but despite protestations from the New Horizons team, its reclassification never really changed the mission or the importance of what it would find at Pluto.
Five months after NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, knowledge about this distant system continues to unfold, yet the spacecraft is less than halfway through transmitting data about the Pluto system to Earth. New Horizons science team members presented the latest findings at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) autumn meeting in San Francisco.
Pluto’s day is 6.4 Earth days long. The dwarf planet’s largest moon, Charon, also rotates once every 6.4 days as the two worlds are tidally locked to each another. This sequence of images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows us full rotations of the two bodies.
From possible ice volcanoes to twirling moons, NASA’s New Horizons science team is discussing more than 50 exciting discoveries about Pluto at this week’s 47th Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences. The two cryovolcano candidates are large features measuring tens of miles across and several miles high.
In September, the New Horizons team released a stunning but incomplete image of Pluto’s crescent. Thanks to updated processing work by the science team, New Horizons is releasing the entire, breathtaking image of Pluto. The team also released images showing extended mapping of the dwarf planet’s “heart” feature and young craters on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon.
Images just sent back to Earth this week of Pluto’s tiny moon tiny Kerberos taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft complete the family portrait of Pluto’s moons. Kerberos has a double-lobed shape suggesting that it could have been formed by the merger of two smaller objects. It also appears to be smaller than scientists expected and has a highly-reflective surface, counter to predictions prior to the Pluto flyby in July.
The New Horizons team described a wide range of findings about the Pluto system in its first research paper published today — just three months after NASA’s historic first exploration of the dwarf planet. New Horizons has revealed a degree of diversity and complexity on Pluto and its moons that few expected in the frigid outer reaches of the solar system.
At half the diameter of Pluto, Charon is the largest satellite relative to its planet in the solar system. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has returned the best colour and the highest resolution images yet of Charon, showing a landscape covered with mountains, canyons, landslides, surface-colour variations and more — all evidence of a surprisingly complex and violent history.
New close-up images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveal a bewildering variety of surface features that have scientists reeling because of their range and complexity. Images downlinked in the past few days reveal new features as diverse as possible dunes, nitrogen ice flows oozing out of mountainous regions onto plains, and even networks of valleys possibly carved by material flowing over Pluto’s surface.