Category Archives: New Horizons

The Night side of Charon

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Who would have guessed that not only would we see Pluto’s Charon, but the night side of the moon too?! Ok NASA would.

Here’s what the New Horizons had to say about the image:
After its close approach to Pluto in July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft snapped this hauntingly beautiful image of the night side of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon.

Only an imager on the far side of Pluto could catch such a view, with a bright, thin sliver of Charon near the lower left illuminated by the sun. Night has fallen over the rest of this side of Charon, yet despite the lack of sunlight over most of the surface, Charon’s nighttime landscapes are still faintly visible by light softly reflected off Pluto, just as “Earthshine” lights up a new moon each month. Charon is 750 miles (1,214 kilometers) in diameter, approximately as wide as Texas.

Scientists on the New Horizons team are using this and similar images to map portions of Charon otherwise not visible during the flyby. This includes Charon’s south pole – toward the top of this image — which entered polar night in 1989 and will not see sunlight again until 2107. Charon’s polar temperatures drop to near absolute zero during this long winter.

This combination of 16 one-second exposures was taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at 2:30 UT on July 17, 2015, nearly three days after closest approach to Pluto and Charon, from a range of 1.9 million miles (3.1 million kilometers).

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

Wright Mons

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Not long ago Pluto was a blur of light even with the largest telescopes – wow simply excellent!

Scientists with NASA’s New Horizons mission have assembled the highest-resolution color view of one of two potential cryovolcanoes spotted on the surface of the distant planet by the passing New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015.

At about 90 miles (150 kilometers) across and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) high, the feature – informally named Wright Mons – is enormous. If it is in fact a volcano, as suspected, it would be the largest such feature discovered in the outer solar system.

Mission scientists are intrigued by the sparse distribution of red material in the image and wonder why it is not more widespread. Also perplexing is that there is only one identified impact crater on Wright Mons itself, telling scientists that the surface (as well as some of the crust underneath) was created relatively recently. This is turn may indicate that Wright Mons was volcanically active late in Pluto’s history.

This composite image includes pictures taken by the New Horizons spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a range of about 30,000 miles (48,000 kilometers), showing features as small as 1,500 feet (450 meters) across. Sprinkled across the LORRI mosaic is enhanced color data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) gathered about 20 minutes after the LORRI snapshots were taken, from a range of 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) and at a resolution of about 2,100 feet (650 meters) per pixel. The entire scene is 140 miles (230 kilometers) across.

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

 

Blue Bands at Pluto

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This processed image is the highest-resolution color look yet at the haze layers in Pluto’s atmosphere. Shown in approximate true color, the picture was constructed from a mosaic of four panchromatic images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) splashed with Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) four-color filter data, all acquired by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. The resolution is 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) per pixel; the sun illuminates the scene from the right.

Scientists believe the haze is a photochemical smog resulting from the action of sunlight on methane and other molecules in Pluto’s atmosphere, producing a complex mixture of hydrocarbons such as acetylene and ethylene. These hydrocarbons accumulate into small particles, a fraction of a micrometer in size, and scatter sunlight to make the bright blue haze seen in this image. As they settle down through the atmosphere, the haze particles form numerous intricate, horizontal layers, some extending for hundreds of miles around Pluto. The haze layers extend to altitudes of over 200 kilometers (120 miles).

Adding to the stark beauty of this image are mountains on Pluto’s limb (on the right, near the 4 o’clock position), surface features just within the limb to the right, and crepuscular rays (dark finger-like shadows to the left) extending from Pluto’s topographic features.

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

Viking Terra

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From New Horizons/NASA:
Scientists from NASA’s New Horizons mission have combined data from two instruments to create this composite image of Pluto’s informally named Viking Terra area.

The combination includes pictures taken by the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a range of about 31,000 miles (49,000 kilometers), showing features as small as 1,600 feet (480 meters) across. Draped over the LORRI mosaic is enhanced color data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) gathered about 20 minutes after the LORRI snapshots were taken, from a range of 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) and at a resolution of about 2,100 feet (650 meters) per pixel. The entire scene is 160 miles (250 kilometers) across.

Among the features scientists find particularly interesting are the bright methane ices that condensed on many crater rims; the collection of dark red tholins (small soot-like particles generated from reactions involving methane and nitrogen in the atmosphere) in low areas, like the bottoms of craters; and the layering on the faces of steep cliffs and on crater walls.

In areas where the reddish material is thickest and the surface appears smooth, the material seems to have flowed into some channels and craters. Scientists say tholin deposits of that thickness aren’t usually mobile on large scales, suggesting that they might be riding along with ice flowing underneath, or being blown around by Pluto’s winds.

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

Nix

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FANTASTIC!

From New Horizons:
This recently received panchromatic image of Pluto’s small satellite Nix taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) aboard New Horizons is one of the best images of Pluto’s third-largest moon generated by the NASA mission. Taken on July 14 at a range of about 14,000 miles (23,000 kilometers) from Nix, the illuminated surface is about 12 miles (19 kilometers) by 29 miles (47 kilometers). The unique perspective of this image provides new details about Nix’s geologic history and impact record.

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Pluto’s Plains

This very close look at Pluto shows us plains with a few craters. The image scale of 6 miles is about the same as 9.7 km so it is very close. The image was taken from 17,000 km by the LORRI imager as New Horizons was inbound.

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The New Horizons caption:
This highest-resolution image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveals new details of Pluto’s rugged, icy cratered plains. Notice the layering in the interior walls of many craters (the large crater at upper right is a good example) — layers in geology usually mean an important change in composition or event but at the moment New Horizons team members do not know if they are seeing local, regional or global layering. The darker crater in the lower center is apparently younger than the others, because dark material ejected from within — its “ejecta blanket” — have not been erased and can still be made out. The origin of the many dark linear features trending roughly vertically in the bottom half of the image is under debate, but may be tectonic. Most of the craters seen here lie within the 155-mile (250-kilometer)-wide Burney Basin, whose outer rim or ring forms the line of hills or low mountains at bottom. The basin is informally named after Venetia Burney, the English schoolgirl who first proposed the name “Pluto” for the newly discovered planet in 1930.

The top of the image is to Pluto’s northwest. These images were made with the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard New Horizons, in a timespan of about a minute centered on 11:36 UT on July 14 — just about 15 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto– from a range of just 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers). They were obtained with an unusual observing mode; instead of working in the usual “point and shoot,” LORRI snapped pictures every three seconds while the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) aboard New Horizons was scanning the surface. This mode requires unusually short exposures to avoid blurring the images.

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

 

Pluto’s Badlands

Another of the newly released New Horizons images. This shows what is known as the Pluto Badlands. The image scale is very good. That scale at the top (of 6 miles) is about 9.7 km.

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The original caption from New Horizons:

This highest-resolution image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows how erosion and faulting has sculpted this portion of Pluto’s icy crust into rugged badlands. The prominent 1.2-mile-high cliff at the top, running from left to upper right, is part of a great canyon system that stretches for hundreds of miles across Pluto’s northern hemisphere. New Horizons team members think that the mountains in the middle are made of water ice, but have been modified by the movement of nitrogen or other exotic ice glaciers over long periods of time, resulting in a muted landscape of rounded peaks and intervening sets of short ridges. At the bottom of this 50-mile-wide image, the terrain transforms dramatically into a fractured and finely broken up floor at the northwest margin of the giant ice plain informally called Sputnik Planum. The top of the image is to Pluto’s northwest.

These images were made with the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard New Horizons, in a timespan of about a minute centered on 11:36 UT on July 14 — just about 15 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto — from a range of just 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers). They were obtained with an unusual observing mode; instead of working in the usual “point and shoot,” LORRI snapped pictures every three seconds while the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) aboard New Horizons was scanning the surface. This mode requires unusually short exposures to avoid blurring the images.

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