Around 600 miles wide, covered in craters and cliffs, a composition of rock and water ice… these are descriptions of both several of Saturn’s moons and the dwarf planet Ceres, based on recent observations by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. New topographical maps show that, in terms of surface features anyway, Ceres shares similarities with Saturn’s icy satellites.
“The craters we find on Ceres, in terms of their depth and diameter, are very similar to what we see on Dione and Tethys, two icy satellites of Saturn that are about the same size and density as Ceres,” said Paul Schenk, Dawn science team member and a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, TX. “The features are pretty consistent with an ice-rich crust.”
This newly-released picture of Pluto isn’t quite what our eyes would perceive… but then our eyes aren’t high-tech scientific imaging sensors like the ones aboard New Horizons! An enhanced-color image made from data acquired by the spacecraft’s LORRI and Ralph cameras on July 13, 2015, this view of Pluto shows the many variations in surface compositions across the planet’s visible area. What the compositions are specifically and how they got to be in the places they’re in are questions still being worked on by scientists, so for now we can all just have fun speculating and enjoy the view!
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.
This is Pluto, imaged by New Horizons’ LORRI camera on July 12. It’s (once again) the best view yet, captured from a distance of 2.5 million km / 1.5 million miles. Check out all that geology – craters, depressions, chaos terrain of some sort… at no time in human history has anyone ever seen this world in such detail.* And tomorrow, the spacecraft will pass within a scant 7,767 miles of its surface at 7:49 a.m. EDT / 11:49 UTC, its high-resolution Ralph camera firing away.
So… WHO’S EXCITED??
NASA and JHUAPL will be hosting media broadcasts tomorrow morning starting at 7:30 a.m. EDT during the flyby events (although “live” footage won’t be possible due to the fact that the spacecraft is four and a half hours of light-travel time away.) See the schedule here, and of course you can always tune in to watch NASA TV with the link in the header bar above.
*Although artist Don Dixon pretty much nailed Pluto’s appearance in some illustrations he made in 1979 – check those out here.
Three days before New Horizons’ closest pass by Pluto and we already have the first final image of the mission: this is the last “best” view we will have of Pluto’s Charon-facing side, as the spacecraft will be acquiring its most detailed images of the planet’s opposite side on July 14.
Pluto and its largest moon Charon are locked together gravitationally, a scenario called tidal locking. The face of one is always aimed at the same face of the other, and they orbit around a point in space (the barycenter) that is located between the two (but closer to Pluto.) Thus the image above shows the side of Pluto that Charon always “sees.”*
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On April 30, 2015, after more than ten years in space – four of those in orbit – MESSENGER‘s mission and operational life came to its conclusive (and expected) end when it impacted the surface of Mercury. While the spacecraft’s approximate impact location was predicted by mission engineers (it was out of sight of Earth at the time) it wasn’t until nearly a month later that the exact site was determined.
The image above shows the spacecraft’s final path and the point of impact. See a closer view of the region below: