Category Archives: New Horizons

2014 MU69 is PT1

PT1? Yes PT1 is a designation given to the first potential target for the New Horizon’s spacecraft. 2014 MU69 is the first named potential target.

Potential is the key word as there is at least one other identified candidate but not yet declared PT2.


As for 2014 MU69 is has a diameter of just (about) 45 km / 30 miles in diameter! If this object is selected, New Horizons will not arrive until January 2019! It’s amazing this thing was even found, leave it Hubble Space Telescope to bring home the goods. The object was one of five found by Hubble and is one of two in the flight path of the spacecraft.

These objects give us an opportunity to see the building blocks of the Kuiper belt. You can imagine these objects have had very little heating from the Sun so should be as pristine as they can be.

The decision choosing the target will be pretty quick in coming. If 2014 MU69 is indeed going to the target there are maneuvers that will need to be executed starting in late October.

Fuel consumption will be a key factor in the decision. Mission managers would probably like to have a little left “just in case”.

Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Alex Parker

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Name an Exo-Planet and Star?

There are 20 newly discovered worlds in need of names and you can vote for which names they should from a list submitted previously. Not only that but there are 20 parent stars in need of names and you can suggest a name. Imagine that, you could come up with the offically recognized name for a star of a solar system.

There are rules and guidlines though. You will need to read the International Astronomical Union (IAU) page carefully (don’t worry it’s not complicated).

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Pluto’s Nitrogen Source


Early in the Pluto encounter there was talk about nitrogen being lost from the atmosphere. Right from the start we were all asking where is it all coming from given the size and age of Pluto. Now we have some insight into the question and just look at that picture!

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

From New Horizons:

Mission scientists are studying New Horizons data to discover what’s pumping up the nitrogen in Pluto’s atmosphere, even as it escapes into interplanetary space. This enhanced color image – created from four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) combined with color data from the spacecraft’s Ralph instrument – helps scientists detect differences in the composition and texture of Pluto’s surface. The data hint that Pluto may still be geologically active, a theory that could explain how Pluto’s escaping atmosphere remains flush with nitrogen.

Geologically active? Read the details at the New Horizons site.

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A Map of Charon


A map of Pluto’s moon (or co-planet depending on your point of view).  Pretty cool when you consider a year ago we only knew Charon as a unassuming dot.   Click the image for a larger view.  If you want a really large view click here.

Here’s the caption released with the map:

The science team of NASA’s New Horizons mission has produced this global map of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. The map includes all available resolved images of the surface acquired between July 7-14, 2015, at pixel resolutions ranging from 40 kilometers (24 miles) on the anti-Pluto facing hemisphere (left and right sides of the map), to 400 meters (1,250 feet) per pixel on portions of the Pluto-facing hemisphere — the side facing the New Horizons spacecraft when it flew past the dwarf planet — at map center. Many additional images now stored on the spacecraft’s digital data recorders are expected to be transmitted “home” in fall 2015 and these will be used to complete the global map. The map is in simple cylindrical projection, with zero longitude (the Pluto-facing direction) in the center.

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 Flight Sim

Here is a simulated flyover of the Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain) and Hillary Montes (Hillary Mountains). The Sputnik Plain contains nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane glaciers or glacier-like structures.

The images were acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers). Features as small as one-half mile (1 kilometer) across are visible.



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Pluto’s Atmosphere


This is such a good picture, the haze of Pluto’s atmosphere in enough detail we can see two distinct layers. What a wonderfully strange little world Pluto is.

Imagine a methane atmosphere and ultraviolet light from the Sun is breaking some of the methane into what ends up being a “icy fog” of ethylene and acetylene. As the ultraviolet light continues to react with the icy-fog, tholins are created which add color to the surface.

Then there are the glaciers (how thick the glaciers are is unknown). Not the water ice glaciers we think of, these glaciers or glacier-like deposits are made up of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane ice. We are familiar with these chemicals in gaseous forms, but at the super cold temperatures on Pluto (- 234 C / – 390 F) they become ice. The glaciers make up the Sputnik Planum the plains on the western side of the heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio and could very well ebb and flow.

The image was taken with the LORRI camera just seven hours after the 14 July closest approach by New Horizons.

Read the press release from New Horizons.


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New Mountain Range


It’s almost like the lighter color is a vast lake of frozen methane or nitrogen or other similar substance bounded by the normal “dry” terrain.

From New Horizons:

A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain.

This image was acquired by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and sent back to Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible.

These frozen peaks are estimated to be one-half mile to one mile (1-1.5 kilometers) high, about the same height as the United States’ Appalachian Mountains. The Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) discovered by New Horizons on July 15 more closely approximate the height of the taller Rocky Mountains.

The names of features on Pluto have all been given on an informal basis by the New Horizons team.

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

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