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New analysis supports subsurface ocean on Pluto

16 November 2016 Astronomy Now

A liquid ocean lying deep beneath Pluto’s frozen surface is the best explanation for features revealed by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, according to a new analysis. The idea that Pluto has a subsurface ocean is not new, but the study provides the most detailed investigation yet of its likely role in the evolution of key features such as the vast, low-lying plain known as Sputnik Planitia (formerly Sputnik Planum).

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Saturn’s moon Dione harbours a subsurface ocean

4 October 2016 Astronomy Now

A subsurface ocean lies deep within Saturn’s moon Dione, according to new data from the Cassini mission. Two other moons of Saturn, Titan and Enceladus, are already known to hide global oceans beneath their icy crusts. Researchers believe that Dione’s crust floats on an ocean several tens of kilometres deep located 100 kilometres below the surface.

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New distant dwarf planet found beyond Neptune

11 July 2016 Astronomy Now

An international team of astronomers have discovered a new dwarf planet orbiting beyond Neptune. The object is roughly 435 miles in size, moving in a 700-year orbit that takes it more than 120 times further from the Sun than Earth. Designated 2015 RR245, it was found using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Maunakea, Hawaii.

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A ‘super Grand Canyon’ on Pluto’s moon Charon

24 June 2016 Astronomy Now

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, is home to an unusual canyon system that’s far longer and deeper than Arizona’s Grand Canyon. As far as NASA’s New Horizons scientists can tell, the canyon informally named Argo Chasma has a total length of approximately 430 miles — one and a half times the length and five times the depth of the Grand Canyon on Earth.

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New Horizons’ best close-up of Pluto’s surface

29 May 2016 Astronomy Now

A mosaic strip just released by the New Horizons team now includes all of the highest-resolution images taken by the NASA probe. The mosaic affords scientists and the public the best opportunity to examine the fine details of the various types of terrain on Pluto, and determine the processes that formed and shaped them.

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New Horizons collects first science on a post-Pluto object

19 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Warming up for a possible extended mission as it speeds through deep space, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now twice observed 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wide Kuiper Belt object (KBO) orbiting more than 3 billion miles from the Sun. Science team members have used these observations to reveal new facts about this distant remnant of the early solar system.

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2007 OR10: the largest unnamed world in the solar system

12 May 2016 Astronomy Now

By combining data from two space observatories, astronomers have revealed something surprising: a 955-mile-wide dwarf planet named 2007 OR10 is significantly larger than previously thought. Although its 547-year-long elliptical orbit brings it nearly as close to the Sun as Neptune, 2007 OR10 is currently twice as far from the Sun as Pluto.

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Pluto’s interactions with the solar wind are unique

5 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Using data gathered by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on its Pluto flyby in July 2015, the dwarf planet has some characteristics less like that of a comet and more like much larger planets, according to the first analysis of Pluto’s unique interaction with the solar wind — the charged particles that spew off from the Sun into the solar system at a supersonic 1 million mph.

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Pluto’s mysterious ‘halo’ craters

24 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Within Pluto’s informally named Vega Terra region is a field of eye-catching craters that looks like a cluster of bright haloes scattered across a dark landscape. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has revealed that the floors and terrain between the craters show signs of water ice, but exactly why bright methane ice settles on these crater rims and walls is a mystery.

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Pluto’s atmospheric haze varies in brightness

17 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Scientists on NASA’s New Horizons mission team are learning more about the structure and behaviour of Pluto’s complex atmosphere by discovering new attributes of its extensive haze layers. The hazes were first discovered by New Horizons in July 2015, as the spacecraft swept past Pluto and made its historic first exploration of the mysterious dwarf planet.