It’s Christmas in July for planetary scientists, engineers, and space nerds throughout the world. On July 14 at 7:49AM ET, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft whizzed by dwarf planet Pluto, making it the first manmade object to reach this mysterious space rock in our Solar System. It has taken nine years for New Horizons to reach Pluto, and it’s gathering a ton of valuable information, including atmospheric measurements, spectral data, and high-res imaging. Stay tuned as we receive more photos and information over the coming weeks.
Feb 19, 2016
Pluto's moon Charon may have expanded when a sub-surface ocean froze, according to NASA. Images recorded by the New Horizons probe's flyby show "pull apart" faults on Charon's surface, suggesting the moon expanded in its past, fracturing the surface.Read Article >
Charon's outer layer is mostly water ice. When the planet was younger, the water was probably kept liquid by heat from radioactive elements and Charon itself, as it formed. If Charon was warm enough to cause water to melt below the surface, it may have created an ocean. But as the space rock cooled, the ocean would freeze — and expand. That would account for the chasms observed by the flyby, some of which are more than 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) deep. That's four times the depth of the Grand Canyon.
Nov 9, 2015
Pluto may have two ice volcanoes that spew water ice, nitrogen, ammonia, and methane onto the dwarf planet's surface, NASA announced today. The potential volcanoes were spied near Pluto's south pole, in images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft during its July flyby. NASA scientists used the photos to measure the mountains; they are several miles high and tens of miles wide, with large holes in their summits. "On Earth that generally means one thing — a volcano," said Oliver White, New Horizons postdoctoral researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center.Read Article >
Scientists have seen cryovolcanoes like these before throughout our Solar System, especially on icy moons like Triton and Enceladus. They’re just like the volcanoes here on Earth, but they spew melted, icy materials rather than piping hot magma. These frozen eruptions happen when heat builds up inside the core of a moon; usually, it’s the result of a host planet pushing and pulling on a moon, creating friction and heat. When the internal pressure is high enough, the volcanoes serve as a release valve, shooting out plumes that are a hundred or more degrees warmer than the frigid surface. But when these materials make it to the surface, they quickly freeze and solidify.
Oct 22, 2015
New Horizons has sent back an image of Kerberos, the smallest moon in the Pluto system. Now, just a little more than three months after the Pluto flyby, we finally have a full "family portrait" of Pluto and its five moons.Read Article >
The low-resolution picture of Kerberos (seen below) is actually made of four separate images taken by New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI. It was taken from about 245,600 miles (396,100 km) away, just seven hours before the spacecraft's closest approach to Pluto back in July.
Oct 15, 2015
The New Horizons team has released the first research paper based on early findings from the spacecraft's flyby of Pluto. The results, authored by the team and led by principal investigator Alan Stern, were published today in the journal Science.Read Article >
Three months ago, Pluto and its moons came into focus for the very first time. Journalists, the scientific community, and space enthusiasts have since pored over each and every photo beamed back by the New Horizons spacecraft in hopes of learning new things about the icy dwarf planet. Many of the observations made along the way by NASA and the New Horizons Team are included in the study, which serves as a summary of what they've learned and what mysteries persist. It wasn't expected to be this way, but Pluto and its moons are dynamic, colorful worlds that show both signs of recent geologic activity as well as surface features that date back to the dawn of our Solar System.
Oct 8, 2015
Images of Pluto taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft show the dwarf planet has blue "hazes" and water ice, the agency said in a statement released today.Read Article >
As NASA explains, the blue sky is formed by the way "haze particles" scatter blue light, although the particles themselves are probably gray or red. The particles responsible for the color are "soot-like particles we call tholins," the agency writes.
Sep 18, 2015
NASA has released some truly stunning images of Pluto since it began the year-long download of the rest of New Horizons' data. Now the agency has taken some of those images and made a new virtual flyover of the dwarf planet, and the results are pretty spectacular.Read Article >
The video was made with images that were released last Friday, all of which were taken by New Horizons' LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. It starts low, just above the mountains that the New Horizons team calls the Norgay Montes region, then heads north to the icy plains of the Sputnik Planum and black craters of the Cthulhu Regio. (These names were picked by the New Horizons team, and while they are unofficial, it hasn't stopped NASA from regularly using them.) And because New Horizons is now sending back uncompressed images, the video is much higher resolution than the last flyover video that NASA released.
Sep 12, 2015
Just a few short months ago we had almost no idea what Pluto really looked like. These days we’re looking at it unprecedented detail, thanks to the New Horizons spacecraft's successful flyby in July. The team that operates New Horizons recently started the year-long download of the remainder of the spacecraft's data, and the early returns are phenomenal. Case in point — yesterday afternoon, the New Horizons team uploaded almost 40 new high-resolution images of the dwarf planet to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory website. The image you see above is a mosaic of those images that was created by The Verge, but you’re really going to want to see the epic, high-resolution version here.Read Article >
While we already saw a few high-resolution images of the surface of Pluto back in July, this new mosaic gives us the most detailed look yet at the dwarf planet in its entirety. It certainly won’t be the last look, though — there's surely another one buried in that mountain of data that's still aboard the spacecraft, and there’s a very good chance that NASA (or the New Horizons team) will release its own, official version of the mosaic at some point. Until then, click, zoom, and enhance!
Aug 14, 2015
One month ago today, the New Horizons spacecraft completed a 3-billion-mile journey across the Solar System and performed a flyby of Pluto. The images that it sent back were breathtaking and beautiful. Sadly, there was no video of the epic event — until now! Vimeo user Bjorn Jonsson made a simulated video that lets you relive the flyby from the theoretical passenger's seat of New Horizons.Read Article >
Jonsson made the short video using real images taken by New Horizons of Pluto and its moon, Charon. You can even see Pluto's atmosphere, especially when the virtual camera swings around and sees the dwarf planet back-lit by the Sun.
Jul 22, 2015
The New Horizons space probe that's currently beaming back images of Pluto and its moons has made its way to the outer reaches of our solar system on a budget of just $700 million. Spread over the course of 15 years, the cost of this NASA mission is less than it takes to run most professional sports teams these days, but it's delivered so much more joy, pride, and awesome science. The United States has earned the unqualified admiration of the international community by pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge and rekindling our passion for new discoveries. For once, the flag-waving and "USA!" chants are justified (even if they remain pretty irksome for outsiders).Read Article >
Just to put NASA's cost efficiency into context: $700 million is less than a tenth of the amount Microsoft wrote off after its takeover of Nokia. Apple could fund fifteen New Horizons missions with just the profit from its last three months. And AT&T's proposed takeover of DirecTV is close to 70 times more expensive than the humble Pluto probe.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has snapped an image of another icy mountain range on Pluto — this one located on the southwestern edge of the dwarf planet's famous heart region. These peaks are between a half mile and one mile high and are located 68 miles northwest of Norgay Montes, the other Pluto mountain range previously photographed by New Horizons.Read Article >
This new mountain range is also situated just west of the icy plains located within Pluto's heart, which have been dubbed Sputnik Planum. And on the other side of the mountains, the large dark equatorial region informally named Cthulhu begins. NASA researchers think Sputnik Planum may be relatively young at less than 100 million years old, while the dark regions date back to billions of years ago.
NASA released even closer shots of Pluto's smaller moons Nix and Hydra today, showcasing the weird shapes of these tiny space rocks. An enhanced-color image of Nix makes the moon look something like a pinkish jelly bean, while the image of Hydra shows a lopsided moon with various curves and dips. These moons stand in stark contrast to the mostly spherical moons that dominate our Solar System.Read Article >
The photographs were both taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on July 14th with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), the probe's high-resolution imaging instrument. New Horizons snapped the image of Nix when it was 102,000 miles away from the moon and captured Hydra when it was 143,000 miles away. Despite their blurriness, the photos are a big step up from the first heavily pixelated images we got of Nix and Hydra.
Pluto's atmosphere has an extended reach. Data collected by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reveals that the gas surrounding the dwarf planet extends as far as 1,000 miles outward into space. That's more than 13 times farther than Earth's atmosphere, which tapers off at around 75 miles above our planet's surface. Previous observations from Earth have only been able to record Pluto's atmosphere reaching 170 miles out into space.Read Article >
About an hour after its flyby of Pluto, New Horizons used its Alice imaging spectrograph to gather information about the atmosphere. The data had to be collected during a special time when New Horizons passed through Pluto's shadow and the Sun backlit the dwarf planet. It's an event known as solar occultation, and it allows the spectrograph to measure the wavelengths of the Sun's light filtered through Pluto's atmosphere. Changes in wavelengths help researchers figure out what gases make up the atmosphere.
NASA has released some truly stunning images following New Horizons' successful flyby of Pluto. But those almost pale in comparison to this new simulated video that takes viewers above the 11,000-foot-tall mountains of ice that mark up the dwarf planet's surface.Read Article >
The simulated video shows what NASA is informally calling the "Norgay Montes" (or Norgay Mountains) as well as the frozen plains of the Sputnik Planum. All of the images used to create the visualization were taken during New Horizons' closest approach to Pluto, and were captured by the spacecraft's LORRI camera — the same camera that took this now-famous image of Pluto.
NASA has published the first high-resolution mosaic image of the surface of Pluto. In the image we see what New Horizons' principal investigator Alan Stern calls the "icy, frozen plains" of Pluto. It is made from three images that were taken by the LORRI imager on the New Horizons spacecraft at 6:10AM ET on July 14th, shortly before the spacecraft's closest approach. For scale, each pixel represents 0.4km on the surface.Read Article >
One of the three frames in the mosaic shows a complex, frozen section of Pluto's surface that New Horizons geologist Jeff Moore jokingly called "not-easy-to-explain terrain" during a press conference. NASA is informally calling the region “Sputnik Planum” in honor of the first satellite to orbit the Earth. Sputnik Planum has an irregular, segmented surface separated by troughs, a pattern that's reminiscent of how mud dries on Earth.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to Pluto on Tuesday July 14th, gathering some pretty interesting data about the dwarf planet. From large white hearts and dark equatorial regions on Pluto's surface to methane ice caps and even the presence of snow, New Horizons has given scientists a lot of information about the space rock. And some of Pluto's features have researchers stumped.Read Article >
We're going to get even more pictures of Pluto and its moons over the coming days. Stay tuned.
Jul 16, 2015
We're getting even crisper images of Pluto's largest moon Charon. NASA just released the first high-resolution photograph of a section of Charon's surface, zeroing in on a feature that looks like a "mountain in a moat."Read Article >
This image was taken from the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14th at 6:30AM ET, when it was 49,000 miles away from the moon. It depicts an area that's 200 miles long, filled with craters and a mysterious depressed mountain at the top lefthand corner. "This is a feature that has geologists stunned and stumped," said Jeff Moore with NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Jul 16, 2015
History was made this week; the kind that changes curricula. New Horizons gave us our first real look at Pluto and its moons. As Alan Stern, the mission's principal investigator, described it to me, "We turned a point of light into a planet, and we did it like that" — a declarative statement he accented with an inhumanly loud finger snap.Read Article >
That's catchy, but boiling down the New Horizons mission to 15 words sort of obscures the magnitude of the accomplishment. New Horizons was the fastest object to leave Earth when it escaped our planet's atmosphere at more than 36,000 miles per hour in 2006. Nine years later, it passed Pluto at a distance of just 7,800 miles, threading the needle through a target window less than 100 miles wide. And, somehow, all the science being done by the seven instruments onboard only consumes 28 watts of power.
One of Pluto's elusive moons is finally coming into view. NASA released the very first up-close image of Pluto's known outermost moon Hydra, giving us our first taste of the space rock's shape. And it's an awkward one.Read Article >
Up until now, images of Hydra have been very small and blurry. This latest image was taken on Monday July 13th at 7:16PM ET from about 400,000 miles away. Its resolution is about 2 miles per pixel, and the image is the first really clear photograph we've received yet of Hydra. NASA will release an even better-resolution Hydra pic Friday July 17th.
NASA just released the first frame of the high-resolution scans of Pluto. The new image is zoomed into less than one percent of Pluto's surface. It was published less than 24 hours after NASA received confirmation that the New Horizons spacecraft successfully completed its flyby of Pluto. More of these scans will be released on Friday.Read Article >
The high-resolution image of Pluto's surface shows us a fraction of the lower left portion of yesterday's image. John Spencer, a New Horizons science team member, said that the team has yet to find an impact crater in any of the scans, which means the surface of Pluto is very young relative to the rest of the solar system. Spencer also said that the mountains seen in the image stretch to over 11,000 feet (about 3,350 meters) high, and are likely made of a type of water-ice bedrock.
NASA just released the clearest image yet of Pluto's largest moon Charon taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. It's the best single-frame image of Charon the probe will get during this encounter period, with a resolution of 1.5 miles per pixel, and it says a lot about this space rock. "There’s so much interesting science in this one image alone," said New Horizons team member Cathy Olkin at today's press conference.Read Article >
The image was taken with the LORRI instrument, the high-resolution imager on board the New Horizons probe, before the spacecraft made its closest approach to Pluto. The photo was taken on Monday July 13th at 10:41PM ET from about 290,000 miles away. "Charon just blew our socks off with the new image today," said Olkin.
New Horizons is alive and on its way to the inner Kuiper belt, according to NASA. The spacecraft sent back a signal at 8:53PM ET, confirming a successful completion of its flyby of Pluto. The news was announced in front of a packed house at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, the location of New Horizons mission control. "We're in lock with telemetry with the spacecraft," Alice Bowman, the mission's operations manager, said from the control room.Read Article >
The signal was a tiny packet of data — no images or scientific measurements were included. That’s because New Horizons can’t talk to Earth and make observations at the same time. "Any second transmitting information to Earth is a second looking away from Pluto," said Kimberly Ennico Smith, a deputy project scientist for New Horizons, as the spacecraft gave us a brief heads up to let us know it was still functioning before going back to its scientific mission.
Jul 14, 2015
We're still hours away from receiving confirmation that New Horizons lived through its flyby of Pluto, but that doesn't mean the team behind the spacecraft is twiddling their thumbs. This afternoon the team, led by principle investigator Alan Stern, released this wild exaggerated-color image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.Read Article >
It's a much different look from the first clear color view of Pluto we received this morning. That amazing image was taken by New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), but it was colorized with data from Ralph, another one of the spacecraft's cameras.
Jul 14, 2015
It’s 6:45AM, and I’m seated inside the Lefrak Theatre at the American Museum of Natural History, with more than 500 people. It’s early, but the auditorium is overflowing. We’re about to have breakfast with some pretty big planetary celebrities, including Neil deGrasse Tyson; Denton Ebel, chair of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences; and director of astrovisualization Carter Emmart.Read Article >
But the real guest of honor is Pluto. After a nine-year trek through our Solar System, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will make its closest approach to the dwarf planet while we’re having our breakfast — coming within just 7,800 miles. That may seem like a long way off, but the probe has covered a total distance of over 3 billion miles to get to Pluto. Think of it like this: sending such a tiny probe to a small point of space so far away is like hitting a hole-in-one from New York to Los Angeles. It’s also the first time humans will explore and study Pluto — and we are all going to bask in the moment together.
Jul 14, 2015
Legend has it that on the evening of September 14th, 1928, a 26-year-old Walt Disney looked up in the sky and observed a glow unlike he had ever seen before. It was faint, but Disney was a known visionary — one with superhuman sight. Disney squinted, and through that squint he saw a planet. Squinting further, he saw on the surface of that planet a silhouette of a dog — one with its ears down, probably. A friendly dog. Disney quickly sketched what he saw but kept it secret for several years, until that space rock was observed by the rest of the population. He wouldn't have to wait long; on February 18th, 1930, the planet of Pluto was officially discovered by scientists, and just a few months later in September, a then-nameless cartoon bloodhound would track Mickey Mouse in the The Chain Gang. That dog, of course, was Pluto.Read Article >
Now, some 31,714 days after Walt Disney first laid eyes on the now-dwarf planet (and 31,192 days after the rest of humanity found out), we finally see what he saw. Pluto's origins. Whoa. When NASA released its Instagram-exclusive photo of Pluto, it could've rotated it to any angle it wanted (of approximately 360 to choose from). It chose to honor the real founder of Pluto by presenting it as he clearly saw it. As a dog.
Jul 14, 2015
Excitement over the New Horizons probe's flyby past Pluto has been pretty remarkable, and NASA, it seems, has known exactly how to take advantage: hit up social media. The US space agency published the most detailed image of Pluto ever this morning at around 7AM ET, sharing the photo via Instagram hours before it was posted to the official nasa.gov website.Read Article >
It's a canny decision by NASA, which enjoys some 3.5 million followers on the photo sharing network and routinely clocks up more than 100,000 likes per image. The space agency's social media manager John Yembrick told Wired that the idea was simply to give the world "a sneak peek on Instagram," and that NASA feels it's "important to engage new audiences." The space agency appears to have achieved this with its active Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, but this appears to be the first time it's ever given one platform such a head start with new content. "It’s the first time we are aware of a major debut," a spokesperson for the Facebook-owned Instagram told Wired.