Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Pluto Close Up For the First Time


Since it was discovered in 1930, Pluto has remained an enigma. 
It orbits our sun more than 3 billion miles (about 5 billion kilometers) from Earth, and researchers have struggled to discern any details about its surface. 

The closest ever image of Pluto taken yesterday
First Close-up Yesterday

Even closer today

A day after we caught a glimpse of the best photo we've seen yet of Pluto, NASA has released an even closer shot of the dwarf planet: Behold the image above. In a press conference today, the team behind NASA's New Horizons probe gave more information about what they learned from these new images. "This is a very young surface because we have yet to find craters," said John Spencer from the Southwest Research Institute. "It's less than a 100 million years old." The mountains you see in that photo measure up to 11,000 feet high and is primarily made out of icy bedrock, while the overall surface appears to be covered in a layer of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide.

Aside from Pluto, the New Horizons probe also got better pictures of Pluto's moons, particularly Charon (seen above), the largest of all five. There appears to be a dark spot near its north pole, which the team amusingly dubbed Mordor. They also spotted a canyon of around four to six miles deep. The New Horizons probe also caught a picture of Hydra, Pluto's outermost moon, though the image is much more pixilated. It's only 28 miles wide and 19 miles tall and apparently is so reflective that it's probably composed mostly out of water ice. Oh, and as for that "heart" on Pluto that we saw earlier? It's now officially named "Tombaugh Regio" after Clyde Tombaugh who discovered the dwarf planet. NASA plans to have another press briefing on Friday to go over more details uncovered about Pluto's surface.

New Horizons (artist's illustration shown) was launched on 19 January 2006 at a speed of 36,373 mph (58,536 km/h) - the fastest spacecraft ever to leave Earth orbit, 100 times faster than a jetliner. Owing to the speed of New Horizons, the observations of Pluto will last just two hours
New Horizons Probe


Pluto is an extremely distant world, orbiting the sun more than 29 times farther than Earth.
It is about two thirds the size of our moon.
With a surface temperature estimated to be -229°C (-380°F), the environment at Pluto is far too cold to allow liquid water on its surface.
Pluto's moons are also in the same frigid environment.
The moon Charon is almost half the size of Pluto.
The moon is so big that Pluto and Charon are sometimes referred to as a double dwarf planet system.
The distance between them is 12,200 miles (19,640 km).
Charon's orbit around Pluto takes 6.4 Earth days.
Charon neither rises nor sets, but hovers over the same spot on Pluto's surface.
The same side of Charon always faces Pluto - this is called tidal locking.
Different from most of the moons, the Pluto-Charon system is tipped on its side.

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