Now over four months after the historic and long-awaited flyby of Pluto by New Horizons, planetary scientists have had a steady stream of unprecedented data arriving on Earth from the outwardly-speeding spacecraft. We’ve learned more about Pluto in the past few months than we had over the decades before and the information is still being analyzed — and is still coming. This surprising little world and its strange family of mismatched moons, 33 times farther from the Sun than us, has become in the latter half of 2015 the scientific “star of the Solar System.” (Take that all you can’t-be-a-planet folks!)
“It’s hard to imagine how rapidly our view of Pluto and its moons are evolving as new data stream in each week. As the discoveries pour in from those data, Pluto is becoming a star of the Solar System. Moreover, I’d wager that for most planetary scientists, any one or two of our latest major findings on one world would be considered astounding. To have them all is simply incredible.”
– Dr. Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator, SwRI
At the beginning of September the world was treated to a fantastic view of the night side of Pluto, captured by the New Horizons spacecraft as it departed the distant icy world on July 14, 2015. Backlit by the sun, Pluto’s surprisingly complex atmospheric haze created a ghostly glow above its crescent-lit limb while frozen mountains cast reflected light upon neighboring Plutonian peaks.
On Thursday, NASA released an update to that image showing a more complete view of Pluto in its backlit glory, created from more high-resolution images that continue to stream in from the Kuiper Belt-bound spacecraft, over three billion miles away.
So on the same week that the highly-anticipated film “The Martian” opens in U.S. theaters (you are going to go see it, I assume) NASA revealed the latest discovery regarding the Red Planet: there is water on the surface there, salty rivulets that periodically run down steep slopes in Hale Crater and stain its sands with dark streaks.
It might not be something that Mark Watney would want to guzzle a glassful of, but it is a major finding for planetary scientists!
It’s over halfway through 2015 and perhaps it’s high time for an all-new, updated, knock-your-socks-off “blue marble” photo of our beautiful planet Earth. And so earlier this week NASA delivered just that, courtesy of the high-definition EPIC camera (yes, that’s a real acronym) aboard the DSCOVR spacecraft positioned nearly a million miles away toward the Sun. The image above was captured on July 6, 2015, using the camera’s visible-light channels… it’s how Earth would appear to our eyes were we there (with the help of a telephoto lens, that is.)
And it really is a “blue marble” image, of the kind previously only captured by departing (or approaching) planetary exploration spacecraft or from inside Moon-bound Apollo capsules (see below)… you simply can’t get a shot like this from low-Earth orbit!
“This is the first true blue marble photo since 1972.”
– John Grunsfeld, NASA, July 24, 2015
A new image from New Horizons has emerged, showing a new, smaller mountain range on the southwestern border of Pluto’s “heart” region. The image was captured during the July 14 flyby, during which time the spacecraft passed less than 8,000 miles from the planet’s surface.
At 3 p.m. EDT today, July 15 2015, from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, the New Horizons team revealed to the world the first high-resolution image acquired of the surface of Pluto. This was obtained during the historic July 14 flyby with New Horizons’ “Ralph” camera, and it’s our very first close-up view of this distant world’s fascinating, beautiful, and surprisingly crater-free surface! Of course more will be coming as the days, weeks, and months pass, and many further studies will be done to determine the nature of all of the features revealed, but for now – enjoy.
This is truly an amazing time in space exploration!