Category Archives: New Horizons

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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Nix and Hydra


Why does Nix have a red region? Scientists have an idea the reddish region is a crater.

Additional compositional data has already been taken of Nix, but is not yet downlinked. It will tell us why this region is redder than its surroundings,” said mission scientist Carly Howett, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. She added, “This observation is so tantalizing, I’m finding it hard to be patient for more Nix data to be downlinked” – ref.

The image caption:
Pluto’s moon Nix (left), shown here in enhanced color as imaged by the New Horizons Ralph instrument, has a reddish spot that has attracted the interest of mission scientists. The data were obtained on the morning of July 14, 2015, and received on the ground on July 18. At the time the observations were taken New Horizons was about 102,000 miles (165,000 km) from Nix. The image shows features as small as approximately 2 miles (3 kilometers) across on Nix, which is estimated to be 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) wide.

Pluto’s small, irregularly shaped moon Hydra (right) is revealed in this black and white image taken from New Horizons’ LORRI instrument on July 14, 2015 from a distance of about 143,000 miles (231,000 kilometers). Features as small as 0.7 miles (1.2 kilometers) are visible on Hydra, which measures 34 miles (55 kilometers) in length.

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

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New Horizons News Conference

Here is a replay of the news conference held Friday 17 July 2015. The first half (about) of the video are the updates and the second half contains questions.

One item of note, they mentioned that only about 2 percent of the data has been downloaded so far so we are in the very beginning stages. I believe they said we might be at 5 percent by next Friday. LOTS more to come.


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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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