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  • richardmitnick 4:44 pm on July 23, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Pluto,   

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

    From Spaceflight Insider

    July 23rd, 2019
    Laurel Kornfeld

    1
    Image Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

    1
    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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    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.

     
  • richardmitnick 8:33 am on February 17, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Pluto   

    From Astronomy Magazine: “Celebrating Pluto’s discovery” 

    Astronomy magazine

    Astronomy Magazine

    February 15, 2018
    Alison Klesman

    1
    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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  • richardmitnick 12:17 pm on September 7, 2017 Permalink | Reply
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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.

     
  • richardmitnick 9:50 am on July 17, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Charon, , , 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.

     
  • richardmitnick 3:52 pm on July 23, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , 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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    Isaac Newton Group telescopes

     
  • richardmitnick 5:02 pm on July 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
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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.

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    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.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:48 pm on July 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , Northern Arizona University, Pluto   

    From Space.com: “Ice Lab Plays It Cool for Pluto Flyby” 

    space-dot-com logo

    SPACE.com

    July 11, 2015
    Sarah Lewin

    Researchers in an Arizona ice lab spend long hours making crystal-clear ice from mixes of methane, nitrogen and even carbon monoxide — and now, with data from the New Horizons mission to Pluto arriving soon, the lab’s time has come.

    The surface of Pluto is likely covered in a coarse mixture of ices that don’t resemble anything found naturally on Earth. The bitter cold on icy dwarf planets like Pluto and Eris, discovered in 2005, crystallizes blends of substances that on Earth occur more commonly as gases: mainly nitrogen, with a heaping dose of methane and a smattering of other molecules mixing things up.

    To understand the composition of a planet like Pluto from a distance, researchers measure the wavelengths of light that bounce off of the planet’s surface, by telescope or (when possible) much closer up, by spacecraft. Those distinctive wavelengths create a sort of fingerprint for different substances, and by comparing the fingerprints to a database of ice measurements back home, researchers hope to figure out the molecular compositions, temperatures and phases of matter covering Pluto’s surface.

    Temp 0
    Northern Arizona University’s ice lab researchers Matt Bovyn (left), Stephen Tegler (center) and Will Grundy (right) modify the machinery they use to generate exotic ices like those found on Pluto. Credit: Stephen Tegler

    The ice lab at Northern Arizona University has been focusing on creating and measuring ices with different proportions of methane and nitrogen in preparation for the incoming Pluto data. They’ve also begun to incorporate some of the other molecules observed on Pluto to create ices of even greater complexity, Will Grundy, an investigator at the lab, astronomer at the Lowell Observatory and co-investigator on the New Horizons mission, told Space.com.

    Any new ice observations from Pluto’s surface that can’t be found in the database that Grundy and his colleagues have created will mean another trip to the lab to try and match those measurements.

    “We’re going to be getting observations from Pluto with New Horizons that are going to light a fire under our butts,” Grundy said.

    “Our role here in the ice lab has been sort of a support role to try and understand how ice spectra behave under different circumstances,” Stephen Tegler, the chair of Northern Arizona University’s physics and astronomy department and researcher in the ice lab, explained to Space.com. “Then, armed with that broad view, you can take all that information, knowledge and experience, and say, ‘OK, we have this particular fingerprint pattern. How does it relate to what we see in the ice lab?'”

    Temp 1
    A methane ice sample ready for investigation by Northern Arizona University’s ice lab. The methane is visible in the lower half of the cell. Credit: Stephen Tegler

    To measure the “fingerprinting” of a given ice sample, the researchers fire infrared light through the ices they create as they cool down. They track how the changes in temperature and phase of the ice affect which wavelengths of light are absorbed. Many people think “phase” refers to solid, liquid or gas — but it’s much more complicated where these nonwater ices are concerned. They go through several different solid transitions: At certain temperatures, the already-solid ices will suddenly rearrange into a new crystalline setup. (Nitrogen, for instance, suddenly changes from a hexagonal to cubic crystal as it cools past 35.6 degrees Kelvin.)

    Add combinations of different elements into the mix, which change at different temperatures, and it gets complicated fast. “Every combination, it’s almost like we’ve got to come up with a new recipe to grow that very clear ice,” Tegler said. Adding carbon monoxide, another gas present on Pluto, makes the recipes even more devilishly difficult — but also more useful to pinpointing the conditions on different parts of Pluto’s surface, which might have the molecules in different proportions and temperatures.

    “From the point of view of doing remote sensing, anything that changes is something that you could hope to detect from a telescope or from a spacecraft, so that’s a valuable thing to know about,” Grundy said.

    Any unexpected, strange or inexplicable measurements will require new ices and new analysis to interpret. The lab has only scratched the surface on the gases the probe might encounter, say the team members.

    “There are some things I haven’t worked up the courage to try,” Grundy said. “Another species that’s on Pluto is hydrogen cyanide, which is even more toxic [than carbon monoxide] — and worse, it can be explosive as well,” Grundy said.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 8:38 pm on July 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Pluto,   

    From SETI: “Pluto in Sight” 


    SETI Institute

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    It takes a village to pull off a decade-long mission to the outer pickets of the solar system.


    SETI Institute Senior Research Scientist, Mark Showalter briefly discusses the discovery of Pluto, its moons and the Kuiper belt then goes on to tell us what we might expect to see when the New Horizons spacecraft approaches Pluto.

    The SETI Institute is deeply involved with the New Horizons mission to Pluto, and several of our scientists are awaiting results that could truly revolutionize understanding of the solar system’s early history.

    We’ve listed these people below, together with brief descriptions of their interests. As you can imagine, they are eagerly awaiting the data that are already streaming back from the spacecraft. The flyby of Pluto will forever transform this storied world from an enigmatic dot of light to one that we will know far better than the ancients knew the Earth.

    New Horizons is about to shift the study of Pluto from astronomy to geology. Meet some of the scientists who are making this happen.

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    Mark Showalter

    Mark Showalter is a Senior Research Scientist at the SETI Institute, and a member of the New Horizons Science Team. His particular focus is making sure that the spacecraft sails past Pluto without suffering damage due to dust or small particles. Keep in mind that most of the information collected by this craft will only be radioed back after the flyby, so a smooth passage is absolutely essential.

    This is not the first time Mark has been uncovering new information about the outer solar system. In addition to finding two of Pluto’s five known moons, Styx and Kerberos, he discovered two moons of Uranus and one of Saturn.

    3
    David Hinson

    David is a Co-Investigator on the New Horizons mission, and a member of the Atmospheres Science Theme Team. By using an on-board transmitter, Hinson will be exploring the atmospheres of both Pluto and Charon by means of radio occultation measurements.

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    Angela Zalucha

    Planetary scientist Angela Zalucha makes analytic models of planet atmospheres. The New Horizons results will guide her work by accurately determining Pluto’s diameter, the temperature near the surface, and the distribution and composition of ices on its landscapes. This information will help solve mysteries about Pluto’s atmospheric circulation (i.e., its weather and climate) including such things as wind strength and direction.

    5
    Ross Beyer

    Ross is a member of the New Horizons Geology and Geophysical Imaging sub-team, and participates in image processing and geological interpretations. As data continue to stream back from the spacecraft over the next year, he will be building the first 3-D terrain models of Pluto’s surface. Ross will also be making sure the images are correctly mosaicked together, and will be one of the Pluto system’s first cartographers.

    6
    Cristina Dalle Ore

    Cristina studies organic compounds often found on the surfaces of planets, and in particular the types of compounds known as tholins – blackish materials that form when ultraviolet light from the Sun hits water, ice, methane, and nitrogen. This dark, low-temperature material may cover some of the worlds in the Pluto system, and understanding how it was formed and where it is found could offer us important clues to life’s origin.

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 10:09 am on May 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Pluto   

    From NASA: “NASA’s New Horizons Sees More Detail as It Draws Closer to Pluto” 

    NASA

    NASA

    May 27, 2015
    Tricia Talbert

    NASA New Horizons spacecraft II
    New Horizons

    What a difference 20 million miles makes! Images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft are growing in scale as the spacecraft approaches its mysterious target. The new images, taken May 8-12 using a powerful telescopic camera and downlinked last week, reveal more detail about Pluto’s complex and high contrast surface.

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    These images show Pluto in the latest series of New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) photos, taken May 8-12, 2015, compared to LORRI images taken one month earlier. In the month between these image sets, New Horizons’ distance to Pluto decreased from 68 million miles (110 million kilometers) to 47 million miles (75 million kilometers), as the spacecraft speeds toward a close encounter with the Pluto system in mid-July. The April images are shown on the left, with the May images on the right. All have been rotated to align Pluto’s rotational axis with the vertical direction (up-down), as depicted schematically in the center panel. Between April and May, Pluto appears to get larger as the spacecraft gets closer, with Pluto’s apparent size increasing by approximately 50 percent. Pluto rotates around its axis every 6.4 Earth days, and these images show the variations in Pluto’s surface features during its rotation. These images are displayed at four times the native LORRI image size, and have been processed using a method called deconvolution, which sharpens the original images to enhance features on Pluto. Deconvolution can occasionally add “false” details, so the finest details in these pictures will need to be confirmed by images taken from closer range in the next few weeks. All of the images are displayed using the same linear brightness scale.

    The images were taken from just under 50 million miles (77 million kilometers) away, using the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons. Because New Horizons was approximately 20 million miles closer to Pluto in mid-May than in mid-April, the new images contain about twice as many pixels on the object as images made in mid-April.

    A technique called image deconvolution sharpens the raw, unprocessed pictures beamed back to Earth. In the April images, New Horizons scientists determined that Pluto has broad surface markings – some bright, some dark – including a bright area at one pole that may be a polar cap. The newer imagery released here shows finer details. Deconvolution can occasionally produce spurious details, so the finest details in these images will need confirmation from images to be made from closer range in coming weeks.

    “As New Horizons closes in on Pluto, it’s transforming from a point of light to a planetary object of intense interest,” said NASA’s Director of Planetary Science Jim Green. “We’re in for an exciting ride for the next seven weeks.”

    “These new images show us that Pluto’s differing faces are each distinct; likely hinting at what may be very complex surface geology or variations in surface composition from place to place,” added New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “These images also continue to support the hypothesis that Pluto has a polar cap whose extent varies with longitude; we’ll be able to make a definitive determination of the polar bright region’s iciness when we get compositional spectroscopy of that region in July.”

    The images New Horizons returns will dramatically improve in coming weeks as the spacecraft speeds closer to its July 14 encounter with the Pluto system, covering about 750,000 miles per day.

    “By late June the image resolution will be four times better than the images made May 8-12, and by the time of closest approach, we expect to obtain images with more than 5,000 times the current resolution,” said Hal Weaver, the mission’s project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

    Following a January 2006 launch, New Horizons is currently about 2.95 billion miles from home; the spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally.

    APL designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    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.

     
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