To help mission scientists understand the diversity of Pluto’s terrain and to piece together how the dwarf planet’s surface has formed and evolved over time, NASA’s New Horizons mission scientists have started constructing geological maps. The base map for this interpretation is a mosaic of 12 images obtained by the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).
The nitrogen ice glaciers on Pluto appear to carry an intriguing cargo: numerous, isolated hills that may be fragments of water ice from Pluto’s surrounding uplands. Since water ice is less dense than nitrogen-dominated ice, scientists believe these water ice hills are floating in a sea of frozen nitrogen and move over time like icebergs in Earth’s Arctic Ocean.
Data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft point to more prevalent water ice on Pluto’s surface than previously thought. Water ice is Pluto’s crustal “bedrock,” the canvas on which its more volatile ices paint their seasonally changing patterns. The new false-colour image is derived from observations in infrared light by the probe’s Ralph/Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array.
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.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, speeding toward deeper space at more than 32,000 miles per hour, has successfully performed a series of targeting manoeuvres that set it on course for a January 2019 encounter with Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69. This ancient body is more than a billion miles beyond Pluto. The propulsive manoeuvres were the most distant trajectory corrections ever performed by any spacecraft.
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.
What a difference 20 million miles makes! Images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons are growing in scale as the spacecraft approaches its mysterious target. The new images, taken May 8th-12th using a powerful telescopic camera and downlinked last week, reveal more detail about Pluto’s complex and high contrast surface.