From Spaceflight Insider: “Second group of names approved for features on Pluto” and Defense of Pluto’s Status as a planet

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From Spaceflight Insider

August 26th, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld

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A composite of images collected by New Horizons’ instruments during the spacecraft’s July 2015 Pluto flyby, this annotated map shows the newly-approved names in yellow and the ones approved in 2017 in white. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Ross Beyer

A second set of names for features on Pluto, already used informally by members of NASA’s New Horizons mission, has received formal approval by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the organization that names celestial objects and their features.

Submitted by the New Horizons mission, these 14 names honor pioneering explorers on Earth, space missions, scientists and engineers who have studied Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, and underworld mythology. Like the first set of 14 names for various features on Pluto’s surface, which were approved in 2017, all of these came from a 2015 public naming campaign organized jointly by the New Horizons mission, the SETI Institute, and the IAU.

NASA/New Horizons spacecraft


That campaign, titled “Our Pluto,” established a list of themes for names to be assigned to features on Pluto, Charon, and the system’s four small moons in advance of the July 2015 Pluto flyby. Themes for surface features on Pluto included names for the underworld from various world mythologies; gods, goddesses, and dwarfs associated with the underworld; heroes and other explorers of the underworld; writers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt; and scientists and engineers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Participants could vote for names from a list of nominations suggested by the organizers or nominate a name of their choosing under the established categories.

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From Science Alert
NASA Administrator Says Pluto Is Still a Planet, And Things Are Getting Heated
26 AUG 2019
MICHELLE STARR

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Pluto. The Hindu

NASA Administrator Says Pluto Is Still a Planet, And Things Are Getting Heated.

Saturday 24 August 2019 marked a vexing anniversary for planetary scientists. It was 13 years to the day that Pluto’s official definition changed – what was once numbered among the planets of the Solar System was now but a humble dwarf planet.

But not everyone agreed with the International Astronomical Union’s ruling – and now NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has added his voice to the chorus declaring support for Pluto’s membership in the Solar System Planet Club.

“Just so you know, in my view, Pluto is a planet,” he said during a tour of the Aerospace Engineering Sciences Building at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“You can write that the NASA Administrator declared Pluto a planet once again. I’m sticking by that, it’s the way I learnt it, and I’m committed to it.”

Now, this doesn’t officially change anything, and his reasoning is a little facile – having learnt something one way doesn’t mean it has to stay that way, thank you geocentrism. It’s an off-the-cuff lighthearted remark, and that’s fine.

But it just so happens that planetary scientists have been banging the Pluto planet drum for years, and their reasons are a little more considered. Actually, a lot more.

When the IAU removed Pluto from the list of what had been nine planets in the Solar System in August 2006, the move was a corollary of its official definitions of planets and dwarf planets.

Before that, there had been no official definitions of these objects, which created problems when astronomer Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology and colleagues discovered an object that seemed to be bigger than Pluto. (This object was later designated a dwarf planet, and named Eris, after the Greek goddess of strife and discord.)

The difference between a planet and a dwarf planet that changed Pluto’s status? Pluto – hanging out as it does in the Kuiper Belt asteroid field – has not cleared “the neighbourhood around its orbit” of other rocks.

This helped to resolve the perceived problem of other objects around the same size of Pluto, of which there are potentially hundreds. If Pluto was in the planet club, what was keeping the rest of the riff-raff out?

Planetary scientist Alan Stern, leader of NASA’s New Horizon’s mission, has been vocal about his disappointment with the decision to de-planet Pluto since it was made.

“My conclusion is that the IAU definition is not only unworkable and unteachable, but so scientifically flawed and internally contradictory that it cannot be strongly defended against claims of scientific sloppiness, “ir-rigor,” and cogent classification,” he wrote in September 2006.

“The New Horizons project, like a growing number of the public, and many hundreds if not thousands of professional research astronomers and planetary scientists, will not recognise the IAU’s planet definition resolution of Aug. 24, 2006.”

And so he has not. In fact, earlier this year, he debated Ron Ekers of the IAU, defending Pluto’s planet status.


2:15:16

It’s not just that only 424 of around 9,000 IAU members voted on the resolution, nor that hundreds of planetary scientists immediately petitioned against it.

It’s also that Pluto has its own multilayered atmosphere, organic compounds, weather, moons.

It has landscapes – rocky mountain ranges and wide plains. It has avalanches, maybe plutoquakes, maybe even liquid oceans. And that the definition based on orbital clearing has no historical merit.

And even if it did, one could argue that other planets haven’t cleared their neighbourhoods either – there are a lot of asteroids hanging around both Earth and Jupiter’s orbits (although not nearly as many as the Kuiper Belt.)

Scientists last year argued that a planet should be defined as an object that has become large enough to become a sphere.

“It turns out this is an important milestone in the evolution of a planetary body, because apparently when it happens, it initiates active geology in the body,” explained planetary physicist Philip Metzger of the University of Central Florida.

So far, the IAU has shown no signs of backing down, but neither do Pluto’s supporters. Perhaps Bridenstine joining Team Pluto will renew the fight. And we, for one, stand by to welcome our hundreds of new planetary pals.

See the full article here .

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SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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From Spaceflight Insider: “Conference keeps focus on Pluto following New Horizons flyby”

From Spaceflight Insider

July 23rd, 2019
Laurel Kornfeld

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Image Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

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Three years after NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft gave humankind our first close-up views of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, scientists are still revealing the wonders of these incredible worlds in the outer Solar System. Marking the anniversary of New Horizons’ historic flight through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015, mission scientists released the highest-resolution color images of Pluto and Charon. This image was taken as New Horizons zipped toward Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015, from a range of 22,025 miles (35,445) kilometers. This single color MVIC scan includes no data from other New Horizons imagers or instruments added. The striking features on Pluto are clearly visible, including the bright expanse of Pluto’s icy, nitrogen-and-methane rich “heart,” Sputnik Planitia.
These natural-color images result from refined calibration of data gathered by New Horizons’ color Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). The processing creates images that would approximate the colors that the human eye would perceive, bringing them closer to “true color” than the images released near the encounter.
This image was taken as New Horizons zipped toward Pluto and its moons on July 14, 2015, from a range of 22,025 miles (35,445) kilometers. This single color MVIC scan includes no data from other New Horizons imagers or instruments added. The striking features on Pluto are clearly visible, including the bright expanse of Pluto’s icy, nitrogen-and-methane rich “heart,” Sputnik Planitia.
Date 18 July 2018
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Alex Parker

A four-day science conference organized by the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), Universities Space Research Association (USRA), and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) held July 14-18 focused on findings obtained by the New Horizons spacecraft as it flew by the Pluto system in 2015 and Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule in 2019.

NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

Titled The Pluto System after New Horizons, the conference, which featured presentations by many planetary scientists, addressed Pluto’s geology, atmosphere, orbital dynamics, and system origin as well as the nature of the double-lobed Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) and the radiation environment in the Kuiper Belt as measured by the spacecraft.

It included poster sessions on topics such as the topography of Pluto and Charon, stellar occultations by Pluto in 2017 and 2018, composition of the early solar nebula based on the findings at Ultima Thule, computer simulations based on data returned by New Horizons‘ seven science instruments, and numerous related topics.

Held at JHUAPL‘s Kossiakoff Center Kossiakoff Center, the conference also included discussions of followup observations from the ground as well as a possible return to the Pluto system with an orbiter. According to New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado (SwRI), if an orbiter is sent, it is likely to launch in the 2030s and arrive at Pluto during the 2040s.

The conference was a followup to a similar Pluto Science Conference held in July 2013, at which time planetary scientists used both data collected during ground-based observations and via computer models to anticipate what New Horizons would find during its 2015 Pluto flyby. That conference concluded with the announcement of a post-flyby conference then planned for the summer of 2017. A subsequent two-year delay enabled participants to incorporate data from the Ultima Thule flyby as well as data about the Kuiper Belt environment collected by the probe.

Noting the recent 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, Kevin Schindler of the Lowell Observatory used the example of the Moon to describe the sequential stages of exploration required to learn about a celestial object. While the Moon has been observed since ancient times, Pluto is not visible to the naked eye and therefore has been studied for less than a century, he stated.

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The conference’s topics detailed continued study of Pluto and its family of natural satellites. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Steve Gribben

“If we are to comprehensively characterize Pluto, and by extension, any other planetary body, we must continue the quest for knowledge with continued multi-stage exploration.”

Stern pointed out that due to Pluto’s 6.38-day-long rotation, New Horizons was able to image only one of its hemispheres, the “near” or “encounter” side, in high resolution. Pluto’s far side could be imaged only in low resolution because it was photographed at a greater distance, so scientists are uncertain as to whether that side is as heterogeneous as the near side is.

Pluto’s diverse geology is most evident on the near side, which features a variety of terrains including dunes, cryovolcanoes, mountains of water ice, bladed terrain, and the young, geologically active left side of its heart feature, known as Sputnik Planitia. Its surface hosts volatile ices and complex organics known as tholins, produced by the interaction of sunlight with surface methane.

The European Southern Observatory‘s (ESO) European Extremely Large Telescope, scheduled for construction during the 2020s, will be able to image Pluto at about the same resolution as New Horizons did at the far side.

ESO/E-ELT,to be on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. located at the summit of the mountain at an altitude of 3,060 metres (10,040 ft).

While ground-based observations can and will be used to monitor changes in the planet’s color and composition, ultimately, “We need to go back with an orbiter,” Stern emphasized.

At the 2013 conference, many scientists predicted Pluto would resemble Neptune’s large moon Triton, which likely orbited the Sun directly before being captured into the giant planet’s orbit. Yet ground-based observations of both worlds with the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope revealed Pluto’s atmosphere may be more like that of Saturn’s moon Titan.

ESO/NRAO/NAOJ ALMA Array in Chile in the Atacama at Chajnantor plateau, at 5,000 metres

While Pluto’s upper atmosphere contains high levels of hydrogen cyanide (HCN), Triton’s atmosphere shows only a weak HCN signal. Pluto’s atmosphere also has abundant methane while Triton’s does not.

Kirby Runyon of Johns Hopkins University‘s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences noted that New Horizons‘ findings, along with the discovery of nearly 4,000 exoplanets over the last 20 plus years, indicate pedagogy of the solar system needs to change from memorization of a short list of planet names to a focus on a larger, more complex solar system with inner, middle, and outer zones.

Links to abstracts of all the presentations are available for reading on the conference’s Program and Abstracts website. Conference presentations and discussions will be the subject of a book, also titled The Pluto System After New Horizons, scheduled to be published in 2020 as part of the University of Arizona Space Science Series.

See the full article here .

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Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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SpaceFlight Insider reports on events taking place within the aerospace industry. With our team of writers and photographers, we provide an “insider’s” view of all aspects of space exploration efforts. We go so far as to take their questions directly to those officials within NASA and other space-related organizations. At SpaceFlight Insider, the “insider” is not anyone on our team, but our readers.

Our team has decades of experience covering the space program and we are focused on providing you with the absolute latest on all things space. SpaceFlight Insider is comprised of individuals located in the United States, Europe, South America and Canada. Most of them are volunteers, hard-working space enthusiasts who freely give their time to share the thrill of space exploration with the world.

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From Astronomy Magazine: “Celebrating Pluto’s discovery”

Astronomy magazine

Astronomy Magazine

February 15, 2018
Alison Klesman

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This is Pluto as it appeared to the New Horizons spacecraft during its approach of the dwarf planet in July 2015. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

On February 18, 1930, Pluto was discovered by astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Lowell Observatory, in Flagstaff, Arizona, USA

Compared with the major planets in our solar system, Pluto has had a shorter but rockier history. Originally hailed as our solar system’s ninth planet, Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet by a 2006 vote of the International Astronomical Union — a move that remains controversial and challenged to this day.

Pluto, regardless of the category into which it is sorted, has played a vital role in our understanding of the formation and evolution of our solar system. We now know it is part of a family of objects called the Kuiper Belt, comprised of icy, rocky remnants from the solar nebula’s earliest days. The Pluto system itself is larger than initially believed; its largest moon, Charon, wasn’t discovered until 1978, and only in the past two decades have astronomers uncovered four more tiny moons using the world’s most powerful telescopes.

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An artist’s concept shows New Horizons flying through the Pluto system. Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

Until 2015, Pluto remained a dim dot through Earthbound telescopes, and a mere few pixels on images taken by the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. On July 14, 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft flew past the Pluto system, forever changing our view of this distant world. Astronomy celebrated the accomplishment with our Year of Pluto, a wealth of fascinating articles looking back over our past expectations, guesses, and dreams about Pluto, and highlighting the unrivaled success of and the wealth of information unlocked by New Horizons over the course of just a few short hours.

Circling the Sun on an elliptical orbit tilted relative to the plane of the planets, Pluto takes about 248 (Earth) years to make one trip; the tiny, icy world has not yet completed even a single orbit since its discovery. But despite its distance and its still-controversial status, Pluto remains one of the most beloved and fascinating objects in our solar system. Below, you can find links to some of our favorite articles on the history of Pluto, leading up to its discovery, its naming, and the 2015 flyby. Or we invite you to explore our full library of Pluto articles here: Year of Pluto.

And if, like many, you believe Pluto should regain its place among the rightful planets of our solar system, stay tuned — Astronomy will be featuring an exclusive on the definition of the word planet, and how we might rethink it, in an upcoming magazine issue and online bonus feature.

See the full article here .

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From NASA New Horizons: “Pluto Features Given First Official Names”

NASA image

NASA

NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

New Horizons

Editor: Bill Keeter

It’s official: Pluto’s “heart” now bears the name of pioneering American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930. And a crater on Pluto is now officially named after Venetia Burney, the British schoolgirl who in 1930 suggested the name “Pluto,” Roman god of the underworld, for Tombaugh’s newly-discovered planet.

Tombaugh Regio and Burney crater are among the first set of official Pluto feature names approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features.

These and other names were proposed by NASA’s New Horizons team following the first reconnaissance of Pluto and its moons by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. The New Horizons science team had been using these and other place names informally to describe the many regions, mountain ranges, plains, valleys and craters discovered during the first close-up look at the surfaces of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

A total of 14 Pluto place names have now been made official by the IAU; many more will soon be proposed to the IAU, both on Pluto and on its moons. “The approved designations honor many people and space missions who paved the way for the historic exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the farthest worlds ever explored,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado.

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Pluto’s first official surface-feature names are marked on this map, compiled from images and data gathered by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its flight through the Pluto system in 2015. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Ross Beyer

“We’re very excited to approve names recognizing people of significance to Pluto and the pursuit of exploration as well as the mythology of the underworld. These names highlight the importance of pushing to the frontiers of discovery,” said Rita Schulz, chair of the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature. “We appreciate the contribution of the general public in the form of their naming suggestions and the New Horizons team for proposing these names to us.”

Stern applauded the work of the New Horizons Nomenclature Working Group, which along with Stern included science team members Mark Showalter — the group’s chairman and liaison to the IAU — Ross Beyer, Will Grundy, William McKinnon, Jeff Moore, Cathy Olkin, Paul Schenk and Amanda Zangari.

The team gathered many ideas during the “Our Pluto” online naming campaign in 2015. Following on Venetia Burney’s original suggestion, several place names on Pluto come from underworld mythology. “I’m delighted that most of the approved names were originally recommended by members of the public,” said Showalter, of the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California.

The approved Pluto surface feature names are listed below. The names pay homage to the underworld mythology, pioneering space missions, historic pioneers who crossed new horizons in exploration, and scientists and engineers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Tombaugh Regio honors Clyde Tombaugh (1906–1997), the U.S. astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930 from Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

Burney crater honors Venetia Burney (1918-2009), who as an 11-year-old schoolgirl suggested the name “Pluto” for Clyde Tombaugh’s newly discovered planet. Later in life she taught mathematics and economics.

Sputnik Planitia is a large plain named for Sputnik 1, the first space satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957.

Tenzing Montes and Hillary Montes are mountain ranges honoring Tenzing Norgay (1914–1986) and Sir Edmund Hillary (1919–2008), the Indian/Nepali Sherpa and New Zealand mountaineer were the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest and return safely.

Al-Idrisi Montes honors Ash-Sharif al-Idrisi (1100–1165/66), a noted Arab mapmaker and geographer whose landmark work of medieval geography is sometimes translated as “The Pleasure of Him Who Longs to Cross the Horizons.”

Djanggawul Fossae defines a network of long, narrow depressions named for the Djanggawuls, three ancestral beings in indigenous Australian mythology who traveled between the island of the dead and Australia, creating the landscape and filling it with vegetation.

Sleipnir Fossa is named for the powerful, eight-legged horse of Norse mythology that carried the god Odin into the underworld.

Virgil Fossae honors Virgil, one of the greatest Roman poets and Dante’s fictional guide through hell and purgatory in the Divine Comedy.

Adlivun Cavus is a deep depression named for Adlivun, the underworld in Inuit mythology.

Hayabusa Terra is a large land mass saluting the Japanese spacecraft and mission (2003-2010) that performed the first asteroid sample return.

Voyager Terra honors the pair of NASA spacecraft, launched in 1977, that performed the first “grand tour” of all four giant planets. The Voyager spacecraft are now probing the boundary between the Sun and interstellar space.

Tartarus Dorsa is a ridge named for Tartarus, the deepest, darkest pit of the underworld in Greek mythology.

Elliot crater recognizes James Elliot (1943-2011), an MIT researcher who pioneered the use of stellar occultations to study the solar system – leading to discoveries such as the rings of Uranus and the first detection of Pluto’s thin atmosphere.

See the full article here .

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The New Horizons mission is helping us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system by making the first reconnaissance of the dwarf planet Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt – a relic of solar system formation.

The Journey

New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006; it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007, and conducted a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015, culminating with Pluto closest approach on July 14, 2015. As part of an extended mission, pending NASA approval, the spacecraft is expected to head farther into the Kuiper Belt to examine another of the ancient, icy mini-worlds in that vast region, at least a billion miles beyond Neptune’s orbit.

Sending a spacecraft on this long journey is helping us to answer basic questions about the surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres on these bodies.

New Science

The National Academy of Sciences has ranked the exploration of the Kuiper Belt – including Pluto – of the highest priority for solar system exploration. Generally, New Horizons seeks to understand where Pluto and its moons “fit in” with the other objects in the solar system, such as the inner rocky planets (Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury) and the outer gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune).

Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, belong to a third category known as “ice dwarfs.” They have solid surfaces but, unlike the terrestrial planets, a significant portion of their mass is icy material.

Using Hubble Space Telescope images, New Horizons team members have discovered four previously unknown moons of Pluto: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.

A close-up look at these worlds from a spacecraft promises to tell an incredible story about the origins and outskirts of our solar system. New Horizons is exploring – for the first time – how ice dwarf planets like Pluto and Kuiper Belt bodies have evolved over time.

The Need to Explore

The United States has been the first nation to reach every planet from Mercury to Neptune with a space probe. New Horizons is allowing the U.S. to complete the initial reconnaissance of the solar system.

A Team Approach

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

#astronomy, #astrophysics, #basic-research, #cosmology, #dwarf-planets, #nasa-new-horizons, #pluto

From New Horizons: “NASA Video Soars over Pluto’s Majestic Mountains and Icy Plains”

NASA image

NASA

NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

New Horizons

July 14, 2017
Editor: Bill Keeter


Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Paul Schenk and John Blackwell, Lunar and Planetary Institute

In July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft sent home the first close-up pictures of Pluto and its moons – amazing imagery that inspired many to wonder what a flight over the distant worlds’ icy terrain might be like.

Wonder no more. Using actual New Horizons data and digital elevation models of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, mission scientists have created flyover movies that offer spectacular new perspectives of the many unusual features that were discovered and which have reshaped our views of the Pluto system – from a vantage point even closer than the spacecraft itself.

This dramatic Pluto flyover begins over the highlands to the southwest of the great expanse of nitrogen ice plain informally named Sputnik Planitia. The viewer first passes over the western margin of Sputnik, where it borders the dark, cratered terrain of Cthulhu Macula, with the blocky mountain ranges located within the plains seen on the right. The tour moves north past the rugged and fractured highlands of Voyager Terra and then turns southward over Pioneer Terra — which exhibits deep and wide pits — before concluding over the bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa in the far east of the encounter hemisphere.


Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Paul Schenk and John Blackwell, Lunar and Planetary Institute

The equally exciting flight over Charon begins high over the hemisphere New Horizons saw on its closest approach, then descends over the deep, wide canyon of Serenity Chasma. The view moves north, passing over Dorothy Gale crater and the dark polar hood of Mordor Macula. The flight then turns south, covering the northern terrain of Oz Terra before ending over the relatively flat equatorial plains of Vulcan Planum and the “moated mountains” of Clarke Montes.

The topographic relief is exaggerated by a factor of two to three times in these movies to emphasize topography; the surface colors of Pluto and Charon also have been enhanced to bring out detail.

Digital mapping and rendering were performed by Paul Schenk and John Blackwell of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. All feature names in the Pluto system are informal.

See the full article here .

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The New Horizons mission is helping us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system by making the first reconnaissance of the dwarf planet Pluto and by venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt – a relic of solar system formation.

The Journey

New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006; it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007, and conducted a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015, culminating with Pluto closest approach on July 14, 2015. As part of an extended mission, pending NASA approval, the spacecraft is expected to head farther into the Kuiper Belt to examine another of the ancient, icy mini-worlds in that vast region, at least a billion miles beyond Neptune’s orbit.

Sending a spacecraft on this long journey is helping us to answer basic questions about the surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres on these bodies.

New Science

The National Academy of Sciences has ranked the exploration of the Kuiper Belt – including Pluto – of the highest priority for solar system exploration. Generally, New Horizons seeks to understand where Pluto and its moons “fit in” with the other objects in the solar system, such as the inner rocky planets (Earth, Mars, Venus and Mercury) and the outer gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune).

Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, belong to a third category known as “ice dwarfs.” They have solid surfaces but, unlike the terrestrial planets, a significant portion of their mass is icy material.

Using Hubble Space Telescope images, New Horizons team members have discovered four previously unknown moons of Pluto: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.

A close-up look at these worlds from a spacecraft promises to tell an incredible story about the origins and outskirts of our solar system. New Horizons is exploring – for the first time – how ice dwarf planets like Pluto and Kuiper Belt bodies have evolved over time.

The Need to Explore

The United States has been the first nation to reach every planet from Mercury to Neptune with a space probe. New Horizons is allowing the U.S. to complete the initial reconnaissance of the solar system.

A Team Approach

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

#astronomy, #astrophysics, #basic-research, #charon, #cosmology, #nasa-new-horizons, #pluto

From ING: “WHT Observes Pluto in Support of NASA’s New Horizons Mission”

Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes Logo
Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes

17 July, 2015
No Writer Credit

The William Herschel Telescope (WHT) has participated in 2014 and 2015 in a worldwide campaign to spectroscopically follow up Pluto from the ground in support of the encounter of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft with Pluto.

ING William Herschel Telescope
ING William Herschel Interior
ING WHT

Constant monitoring of the surface of Pluto is necessary because it is known to be spectrally and photometrically variable from season to season, and probably during the whole secular calendar. By gathering data at different wavelengths astronomers are able to characterize the distribution of the materials which make up the surface and atmosphere in different ways, from the layers of volatile ices (bright, whitish areas made up of methane, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide) to the more complex organic residues, which are reddish.

Last year Pluto was already observed for six nights using the WHT. The spectra, obtained using ACAM and planned as a series of overrides, showed two principal characteristics of the surface of Pluto, the clearest being the absorption bands due to methane ice. The second characteristic is the continuum slope of the spectrum which is an indicator of the colour of the surface. This colouring agent is not uniformly distributed over Pluto’s surface, but changes significantly during its rotation period, which is 6.4 Earth days.

Temp 0
Images of Pluto taken from the New Horizons probe. Below, spectra from the observing campaign at the WHT in 2014. The difference between the two spectra indicates differences in the composition of the surface of the planet. The spectrum printed in yellow (dark zone) has a larger slope, which is associated with the presence of very dark complexes of organic materials, which seem to be abundant in the dark region to the left of the map. The spectrum printed in red (bright zone) has somewhat deeper absorption bands, which indicate that there is more methane ice in the bright heart-shaped zone. Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI & ORM team

This year, the observations were planned in a similar way and for a period of 11 nights, from 3rd to 14th July, coinciding with the closest approach of New Horizons spacecraft with Pluto. The new spectra will provide an important independent calibration of the MVIC (Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera on board New Horizons).

See the full article here.

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From NASA: “July 12th Daily Briefing for New Horizons/Pluto Mission Pre-Flyby ” Video

NASA

July 12th daily pre-flyby overview of the New Horizons mission, the spacecraft and its suite of instruments and a summary of Pluto science to date from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, site of the mission operations center.

Watch, enjoy, learn.

NASA

See the full article here.

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

STEM Icon

Stem Education Coalition

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

#astronomy, #basic-research, #nasa-new-horizons, #pluto