Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Earth has finally made it to Pluto

Seth Auberon, CC Liu, Wisdom Quarterly;, July 15, 2015; Rob Quinn, Newser.comUS-SPACE-NASA-PLUTO
( After zooming into base of the heart-shaped feature on Pluto to highlight a new image captured by NASA's New Horizons, the image seen in black and white against a previously released color image of Pluto shows a mountain range with peaks jutting as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy dwarf planet.

This is one of the biggest days in the exploration of our solar system since Voyager 2 approached Neptune in 1989 -- and there may not be a day like it again. According to NASA's calculations, its New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto at 31,000 mph at 7:49 am EDT today; confirmation of that will come tonight, some 13 hours later, reports the AP.
The confirmation will mark the completion of NASA's tour of the "classical nine" planets, reports the AP, which notes that Pluto was considered a full-fledged planet instead of a dwarf one when the probe began its journey in 2006. Some things to know about the historic flyby, which comes 50 years to the day after the first successful flyby of Mars, are:
  • New Horizons will have to capture a vast amount of data in a short time. The probe will be pushed to its limits as it pivots to capture photos and information on Pluto and its moons Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra during the flyby. "I can't wait to get into the data and really start making sense of it. Right now, we're just standing under the waterfall and enjoying it," principal New Horizons scientist Alan Stern tells the BBC.
  • We don't know whether it was a success. The probe is far too busy to "phone home," the AP notes, but it's expected to send a confirmation signal at around 9:00 pm tonight [July 14, 2015]. The eagerly awaited first photos from the flyby should be released tomorrow night, The Guardian reports, though it will take 16 months to send all the data from the flyby back to Earth. More
Icy mountains of living Pluto
Tricia Talbert,, July 15, 2015
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 Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team leader Jeff Moore of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.. That suggests the close-up region, which covers less than one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.
Moore and his colleagues base the youthful age estimate on the lack of craters in this scene. Like the rest of Pluto, this region would presumably have been pummeled by space debris for billions of years and would have once been heavily cratered -- unless recent activity had given the region a facelift, erasing those pockmarks.

“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” says Moore.
Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape. More

No comments: