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Icy Nix Indicates Pluto’s Moons Are Leftovers From a KBO Collision

A view of partially-lit Nix, captured from 14,000 miles by New Horizons on July 14, 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

A view of the 22-mile-wide Nix by New Horizons on July 14, 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Recent findings from the New Horizons team reveal that Pluto’s third-largest satellite Nix is covered in the purest water ice yet observed in the dwarf planet system, even purer in spectra than what was seen on its slightly larger sibling Hydra. This analysis further supports the hypothesis that Pluto’s moons were created in an impact event that formed the Pluto-Charon system, over 4 billion years ago.

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New Planet and Pluto Stamps Available Today!

New planetary exploration Forever stamps from the USPS

New planetary exploration Forever stamps from the USPS

They’re here and they’re from outer space! The U.S. Postal Service has two new sets of Forever® stamps based on NASA’s exploration of the Solar System: the Views of Our Planets and Pluto—Explored! series, both of which become available for purchase on May 31, 2016.

Designed by Antonio Alcalá, the Views of Our Planets stamps feature eight images of the major planets in the Solar System, as seen by various spacecraft over the past three decades. Pluto—Explored! highlights an extended-color image of the distant dwarf planet and a rendering of the New Horizons spacecraft, which gave us our first good look at Pluto in July 2015.

The last stamp to feature Pluto was a 29-cent version issued in 1991, which showed a featureless tan orb with the words “not yet explored” beneath it… we can now officially call that version obsolete!

Both sets are Forever stamps, which means they are always good as first-class postage for 1 oz. envelopes, whatever the current postage price may be. You can purchase both in collectible sheets at your local U.S. Post Office or online here.

*Note: the Pluto stamps are only available online.

Hail Hydra: Pluto’s Moon is Covered in Almost Pure Water Ice

One of Pluto's smaller moons Hydra, imaged by New Horizons on July 14, 2015 from a distance of about 143,000 miles (231,000 km). (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Hydra, one of Pluto’s smaller moons, imaged by New Horizons on July 14, 2015 from a distance of about 143,000 miles (231,000 km). Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Discovered in June 2005, distant Pluto’s outermost moon Hydra it thought to have formed during the same collision four billion years ago that created the Pluto-Charon system that we see today. Yet despite its age this 31-mile (50-km) -long moon appears remarkably clean and bright,  as witnessed by New Horizons during its close pass through the Pluto system in July 2015.

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Pluto’s Frozen Lake Hints at a Warmer Past

A possible frozen-nitrogen lake on Pluto (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

A possible frozen-nitrogen lake in Pluto’s mountains (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Hockey fans take note: future visitors to Pluto may want to bring along their sticks and skates—the distant planet may harbor some pristine ice in the form of frozen ponds and lakes! (NASA might have to work on a lightweight, collapsible Zamboni first though.)

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Surprise! Pluto May have Clouds

Alleged clouds in Pluto's atmosphere imaged by New Horizons, highlighted by a Southwest Research Institute scientist (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Alleged clouds in Pluto’s atmosphere imaged by New Horizons, highlighted by a Southwest Research Institute scientist (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

We could be calling it Cloudgate—”leaked” information from internal emails identifying structures in Pluto’s already hazy atmosphere that could very well be clouds, based on a March 4 article in New Scientist.

The image above shows sections of a New Horizons image attached to an email sent by SwRI scientist John Spencer, in which he noted particularly bright areas in Pluto’s atmosphere. “In the first image an extremely bright low altitude limb haze above south-east Sputnik on the left, and a discrete fuzzy cloud seen against the sunlit surface above Krun Macula (I think) on the right,” he wrote.

Read my full story on Discovery News here.

 

Pale Blue Dot: Our Valentine from Voyager 1

If you’re in love with space exploration then you’ll fall for this: a picture of Earth (and five other planets) taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it passed the orbit of Pluto in 1990, 26 years ago today. That image of our planet from almost 4 billion miles away inspired Carl Sagan to write his famous “Pale Blue Dot” passage, and reminds us that we are all just floating on “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

This is from a post I originally published in 2010. I’ll keep trotting it out until it’s not cool anymore. (Which I don’t think will ever will NEVER happen.)

Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as seen by Voyager 1 in 1990 (Credit: NASA)

On February 14, 1990, after nearly 13 years of traveling the solar system, the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed the orbit of Pluto and turned its camera around to take a series of photos of the planets. The image above shows those photos, isolated from the original series and are left to right, top to bottom: Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

From that distance, over 4 billion miles from the Sun, the planets each appear as little more than a bright dot against the vastness of interplanetary space.

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. … There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”

– Carl Sagan

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