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Pluto: Prelude to a Flyby

LORRI image of Pluto from July 12, 2015.

LORRI image of Pluto from July 12, 2015. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

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.

Is That an Ice Cap? New Horizons Detects First Details on Pluto

A full rotation of Pluto and Charon, captured by New Horizons from April 12-18, 2015

A full rotation of Pluto and Charon, captured by New Horizons from April 12-18, 2015

Taken from a distance of about 69 to 64 million miles – just about the distance between the Sun and Venus – the images that make up this animation were captured by the LORRI imaging instrument aboard the New Horizons spacecraft and show its first detection of surface features on Pluto, including what may be the bright reflection of a polar ice cap!

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This Is the First Color Image from the Surface of Venus

Color image data sent from the surface of Venus by the Soviet Venera-13 lander (Credit: NASA history office)

Color image data sent from the surface of Venus by the Soviet Venera-13 lander (Credit: NASA history office)

The surface of Venus is definitely no easy place to which to send a spacecraft. Crushing atmospheric pressures, powerful high-altitude winds amid caustic clouds of sulfuric acid, and temperatures that can soar above 880ºF (475ºC) make the next planet in a no-man’s-land for robotic spacecraft. But those challenges didn’t stop the Soviet space program from successfully putting several craft onto Venus’ surface in the 70s and early 80s, giving us our first views of its kiln-dried landscape.

Venera-3 became the fist spacecraft on the surface of another planet when it impacted Venus on March 1, 1966, but no data was returned. The next year Venera-4 was sent to Venus but was likely crushed by its atmosphere. Venera-7 became the first spacecraft to successfully soft-land on Venus on Dec. 15, 1970, sending back temperature data. Venera-8 landed on July 22, 1970, taking light measurements and confirming suitable levels for imaging. On Oct. 22, 1975, the Venera-9 lander returned the first image data from the surface of Venus before going out of range of the orbiting spacecraft 53 minutes later (and succumbing to harsh surface conditions after that) with Venera-10 landing three days later. Then, on March 1, 1982, Venera-13 landed on Venus, analyzing soil and capturing the first color images from the planet’s surface.

The image above is a section of a larger panorama. See the full image below:

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Latest Images of Ceres Show Its Bright Spot Is Actually Twins!

Image of Ceres captured by Dawn on Feb. 19, 2015.

Image of Ceres captured by Dawn on Feb. 19, 2015.

Here’s your weekly Ceres update! The dwarf planet’s features are coming into better and better focus for the approaching Dawn spacecraft, which will be captured by Ceres’ gravity on March 6. The image above is yet another “best-ever” of Ceres (as will be each one we see now), captured on Feb. 19, 2015, from a distance of about 29,000 miles (46,000 km).

This was one of a trio of images from Dawn released today. The others can be seen below, including one that shows the intriguing bright spot that has been observed for over a decade.

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MESSENGER Gets Up Close and Personal With Mercury

One of MESSENGER's highest-resolution images of Mercury's surface yet

One of MESSENGER’s highest-resolution images of Mercury’s surface yet

Mercury’s ready for its close-up, Mr. MESSENGER! At an incredible 5 meters per pixel, the image above is one of the highest-resolution images of Mercury’s surface ever captured. It was acquired on March 15 with the MESSENGER spacecraft’s MDIS (Mercury Dual Imaging System) instrument and shows an 8.3-km (5.2-mile) -wide section of the planet’s north polar region, speckled with small craters and softly rolling hills.

And, with a new low-altitude mission ahead, there’ll be plenty more like this — and likely even better — in the months ahead. Read the rest of this article here.

Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Curiosity Spots an Unidentified Object on Mars

Is this the smallest UFO ever?

While scooping its first samples of Martian soil NASA’s Curiosity rover captured the image above, which shows what seems to be a small, seemingly metallic sliver or chip of… something… resting on the ground. Is it a piece of the rover? Or some other discarded fleck of the MSL descent mechanisms? Or perhaps an exotic Martian pebble of some sort? Nobody knows for sure yet, but it may just be the smallest UFO ever recorded (that’d be Unidentified Fallen Object…)

Read more here.

UPDATE: the object has been tentatively identified as a bit of plastic originating from the rover itself. Read more.

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