Category Archives: History

Mountain in a Moat


A nice close up of a portion of terrain on Pluto’s moon Charon.

Look in upper left of the inset (click the image to enlarge as always). Almost looks like a mountain sized boulder just got stuck in surface and depressing the local area from weight and/or some sort of latent heat. It is cold enough for methane and nitrogen ice, I’d think the surface would be pretty solid. It will be interesting to hear what the experts think.
Later today there will be new pictures from Pluto after a news conference – can’t wait.

Go here for the New Horizons caption and a full screen version of the image.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Amazing Charon


The comparative lack of cratering and large scale geologic features make Charon simply amazing and gives the moon a youthful appearance.

New Horizons description (the link has a larger version of the image as a “tif” file – so worth the look):

Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles (466,000 kilometers).

A swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from left to right, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely a result of internal processes. At upper right, along the moon’s curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep.

Mission scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters on Charon. South of the moon’s equator, at the bottom of this image, terrain is lit by the slanting rays of the sun, creating shadows that make it easier to distinguish topography. Even here, however, relatively few craters are visible, indicating a relatively young surface that has been reshaped by geologic activity.

In Charon’s north polar region, a dark marking prominent in New Horizons’ approach images is now seen to have a diffuse boundary, suggesting it is a thin deposit of dark material. Underlying it is a distinct, sharply bounded, angular feature; higher resolution images still to come are expected to shed more light on this enigmatic region.

The image has been compressed to reduce its file size for transmission to Earth. In high-contrast areas of the image, features as small as 3 miles (5 kilometers) across can be seen. Some lower-contrast detail is obscured by the compression of the image, which may make some areas appear smoother than they really are. The uncompressed version still resides in New Horizons’ computer memory and is scheduled to be transmitted at a later date.

The image has been combined with color information obtained by New Horizons’ Ralph instrument on July 13.

New Horizons traveled more than three billion miles over nine-and-a-half years to reach the Pluto system.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Image Credit:  NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Pluto’s Mountains


Excellent picture! This was taken near the north pole, a cap of methane ice diluted with a slab of nitrogen ice. To lean more about the location and composition of the planet in general click here.

From New Horizons:
New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.

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 — and may still be in the process of building, says Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI). That suggests the close-up region, which covers less than one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today. . . . Read more at New Horizons.

Images: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Here is the Pluto moon Charon from 1,500,000 km. Moon or binary companion to Pluto that is. We’ve defined a planet perhaps we should look at moons too.

Anyway, don’t want to get going on that, so again this completely fulfills my hope for a really strange place.

The dark area is a mystery.

This image was enhanced by me, you can see the original here.

Congrats to the New Horizons team et. al. for this amazing mission.
Images: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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WOW! Just look at that! Pluto from 800,000 km taken by the LORRI imager aboard New Horizons.

Completely fulfills my hope for a really strange place.

What is that at the top? Another dark patch or is there depth to it?

If you would like to see the “non-enhanced by me” version – click here.  Look at the terrain this is amazing!

Images: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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The Moon Namaka


The moon Namaka was discovered 10 years ago by Mike Brown, Chad Trujillo, and David Rabinowitz et al.

Although the discovery occured on 30 June 2005, the discovery wasn’t announced until 29 November 2005.

Never heard of Namaka? You’re probably not alone. Namaka is a moon of the (dwarf) planet Haumea which it shares with another moon called Hiʻiaka. The Keck telescope image above shows the Haumea family – click for the annotated version.

The Haumea system is a long ways away. The semi-major axis is a little more than 43.2 AU puts it well beyond the orbit of Neptune (30 AU). Brown et al (and possibly Ortiz et al but that another story) discovered Haumea in December 2004.

The moon Namaka is an amazing find, it is so far away even the diameter is hard to pin down but it is somewhere between (probably) 85 km and 170 km.

Here are data points of  the Haumea family.  Oh, by the way the other moon,  Hiʻiaka was also discovered by Brown,  Trujillo and Rabinowitz et al.

“2003 EL61 Haumea, with moons” by CalTech, Mike Brown et al. – Keck Telescope, CalTech. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –


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Charon’s Discovery


Yesterday was the anniversary of the discovery of Pluto’s moon Charon. The moon was found by astronomer James Christy while using the 1.55 meter telescope at the US Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station on 22 June 1978 and announced to the world on 07 July 1978 by the IAU.

Above is the image the moon was spotted in. The image above is Pluto, the image on the left shows a “bulge” near the top that is not in the iamge on the right. The so-called bulge would appear and disappear over time and the period between subsequent “bulges” corresponded to the rotational period of Pluto.

It also turns out this “bulge” was seen and confirmed in hindsight on photographic plates going back to 29 April 1965.

Just think in a few short weeks we will be treated to a very good look at this moon.  Quite a difference between then and now already and we haven’t seen anything yet!

Image: USNO  / NASA

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Martian Clouds

marsclouds2The THEMIS instrument on the Mars Odyssey orbiter gives us this image of clouds on Mars (see NASA’s explanation below).

On 23 June 2015 the Mars Odyssey Orbiter will complete 60,000 orbits around Mars. That means the spacecraft has traveled 1.43 Billion km / 888 million miles and that does not include the travel to the planet. According to David Lehman, project manager for the Mars Odyssey at JPL: “The spacecraft is in good health, with all subsystems functional and with enough propellant for about 10 more years”.

The image shown here is a cropped version, click it to see the original version.

Here’s NASA’s caption:
Pavonis Mons stands about nine miles (14 kilometers) high, and the caldera spans about 29 miles (47 kilometers) wide. This image was made by THEMIS through three of its visual-light filters plus a near-infrared filter, and it is approximately true in color.

THEMIS and other instruments on Mars Odyssey have been studying Mars from orbit since 2001.

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An Interview with Venetia Burney Phair

For those of you who don’t know, Venetia Burney Phair was an accountant and taught economics and math to school girls.

She at age 11 is the person who gave Pluto its name. This interview was recorded in 2006.

Sadly Venetia  passed away on 30 April 2009.

This interview and more is  available at the New Horizons site.

Audio: NASA

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