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New Horizons Mission - Pluto + Charon Encounter

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Jim K    14,934


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Draggendrop    5,748

Great video, just like really being there.....awesome sight..
Here is some data I wanted to put up yesterday but was uoload limited....

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Huge mountains likely composed of water ice tower above Pluto’s surface in the picture, which reveals stunning topographic relief on the icy world’s rugged landscape.

“This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains.”

New Horizons is still sending back images from its July 14 encounter with Pluto. The probe is flying more than 3 billion miles from Earth, and its communications link only allows data to stream back to the ground at about 2 kilobits per second, much slower than a dial-up Internet connection.

“The image shows more than a dozen thin haze layers extending from near the ground to at least 60 miles (100 kilometers) above the surface,” officials wrote in a NASA press release. “In addition, the image reveals at least one bank of fog-like, low-lying haze illuminated by the setting sun against Pluto’s dark side, raked by shadows from nearby mountains.”


Atmosphere Section

Pluto’s atmosphere:

Pluto’s surface is not the only part of the dwarf planet that has so far offered up some interesting surprises for New Horizons’ teams.

On the second day of data download from New Horizons, images revealed that Pluto’s atmosphere extends as far as 1,600 km (1,000 miles) above the surface of the dwarf planet.

Pluto’s atmosphere had previously only been observed at altitudes no higher than 270 km (170 miles) – and as Pluto is currently moving away from the sun in its orbital path, its atmosphere is thought to be in the process of freezing to its surface.

According to New Horizons scientist Andrew Steffl, “The data we have now show that Pluto’s atmosphere rises higher above its surface, in relative terms, than does the Earth’s.”



The initial information on Pluto’s atmosphere came from the Alice instrument that used spectrography during a carefully designed alignment of the Sun, Pluto, and New Horizons an hour after the craft’s closest approach to the dwarf planet.

Using a created solar occultation (when a body passes directly between an observation point and the Sun and completely blocks the view of the Sun from the observation point), New Horizons’ Alice spectrograph viewed Pluto’s atmosphere as it was backlit by the Sun.

The initial Alice information further revealed that Pluto’s atmosphere matches neither of the two plausible models developed prior to the flyby.

Thus far, Alice information has revealed that Pluto’s atmosphere is closer to the “stagnant” model (a large abundance of hydrocarbons) than to the “turbulent” model (low amount of sun-light absorbing hydrocarbons).

The complete Alice spectrograph was sent from New Horizons in August and will allow scientists to make a more conclusive study of and determination about Pluto’s atmosphere.

Meanwhile, as New Horizons passed behind Pluto and began its outbound journey from the dwarf planet, the probe detected an area of cold, dense, ionized gas tens of thousands of miles beyond Pluto.



Detected by the SWAP (Solar Wind Around Pluto) instrument, New Horizons captured part of the extent of the loss of Pluto’s atmosphere to the solar wind – one of the mission’s primary objectives.

Initial data points showed a trail of ionized escaped nitrogen extending 77,000 km (48,000 miles) to 109,000 km (68,000 miles) “downstream” of Pluto.

While this ionized trail confirms that Pluto is losing atmosphere to the solar wind, the specific rate of loss has not yet been determined.

But Pluto’s complex atmosphere thus far sampled and returned by New Horizons extends beyond hydrocarbons and how much of the atmosphere is escaping to space.

The surface pressure created by Pluto’s atmosphere has also given scientists a shock: It’s far lower than compared to previous observations.

Obtained by the Rex radio instrument, Pluto’s surface atmospheric pressure is approximately 1/100-thousandth of the pressure at Earth sea-level.

While a lower surface pressure than that of Earth is not surprising given Pluto’s smaller size and smaller atmosphere, this measurement is only about half the calculated surface pressure from just a few years ago.

“For the first time, we have ground truth, measuring the surface pressure at Pluto, giving us an invaluable perspective on conditions at the surface of the planet,” said New Horizons researcher Ivan Linscott.

“This crucial measurement may be telling us that Pluto is undergoing long-anticipated global change.”

That long anticipated change is the freezing of Pluto’s atmosphere to the surface of the dwarf planet as it moves farther from the Sun in its prolonged orbit.

Since this change occurs relatively quickly during Pluto’s orbit, the almost half of expected measurement of Pluto’s surface pressure could indicate that about half of Pluto’s atmosphere has already frozen to its surface since the last measurements were derived in the early 2010s.

Furthermore, in September, scientists learned even more about Pluto’s multi-layered atmosphere.

New downlinked images from New Horizons have revealed that Pluto’s global atmospheric haze has many more layers than scientists realized.

Moreover, these layers create a twilight effect that softly illuminates nightside terrain near sunset.

“This bonus twilight view is a wonderful gift that Pluto has handed to us,” said John Spencer, a GGI deputy lead. “Now we can study geology in 



Actual atmospheric reach


Here is a 3 shot zoom to show the ice flow (glacier)

Close-up view of Sputnik Planum, also known as Pluto’s “heart.” The smooth plains in this region are thought to be composed of nitrogen ice. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Close-up view of region inside rectangle from previous image, showing glaciers in 2- to 5-mile (3- to 8- kilometer) wide valleys (red arrows). Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Even closer view of the nitrogen ice glaciers on Pluto. The flow front of the ice moving into Sputnik Planum is outlined by the blue arrows. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI


This would be awsome, to be in a crawler and touring the area......then get out and walk the edges

At this link, you can download (various sizes), a huge mosaic, complete, of Pluto....with amazing detail....A must see.....:D

Mission site


DSN live tracker

Today, at 5:00 pm (EDT), with the Madrid dish, downlink is 3.16 kb/s, 8.44 Ghz, -141 dbm (1.75e-21kW), the other transmitter is down an additional 5db.
The probe is 4.96 billion kilometers away, where, at light speed, it takes 9.19 hours round trip. This is extreme communications and I thought that I would do a quick blurb on this to help those who find this data a bit unusual to fully understand. The DSN, deep space network dish that we are using at the above stated time, is in spain (earth's orientation to pluto), as the earth rotates, we will switch to Goldstone, the Canberra, and back again to Madrid, over a 24 hour period. The latest upgrades are not done to the whole system yet, budgetary issues, and we are using the (high C) X band gear. X band is the band designation where 8.44 Ghz is placed in. You will be familiar with the old C band dishes out in peoples yards (slightly lower Rx and Tx frequencies there) Here is a chart to explain...

DesignationFrequency rangeWavelength rangeTypical uses
L band1 to 2 GHz15 cm to 30 cmmilitary telemetry, GPS, mobile phones (GSM), amateur radio
S band2 to 4 GHz7.5 cm to 15 cmweather radar, surface ship radar, and some communications satellites (microwave ovens, microwave devices/communications, radio astronomy, mobile phones, wireless LAN, Bluetooth, ZigBee, GPS, amateur radio)
C band4 to 8 GHz3.75 cm to 7.5 cmlong-distance radio telecommunications
X band8 to 12 GHz25 mm to 37.5 mmsatellite communications, radar, terrestrial broadband, space communications, amateur radio
Ku band12 to 18 GHz16.7 mm to 25 mmsatellite communications
K band18 to 26.5 GHz11.3 mm to 16.7 mmradar, satellite communications, astronomical observations, automotive radar
Ka band26.5 to 40 GHz5.0 mm to 11.3 mmsatellite communications
Q band33 to 50 GHz6.0 mm to 9.0 mmsatellite communications, terrestrial microwave communications, radio astronomy, automotive radar
U band40 to 60 GHz5.0 mm to 7.5 mm 
V band50 to 75 GHz4.0 mm to 6.0 mmmillimeter wave radar research and other kinds of scientific research
W band75 to 110 GHz2.7 mm to 4.0 mmsatellite communications, millimeter-wave radar research, military radar targeting and tracking applications, and some non-military applications, automotive radar
F band90 to 140 GHz2.1 mm to 3.3 mmSHF transmissions: Radio astronomy, microwave devices/communications, wireless LAN, most modern radars, communications satellites, satellite television broadcasting, DBS, amateur radio
D band110 to 170 GHz1.8 mm to 2.7 mmEHF transmissions: Radio astronomy, high-frequency microwave radio relay, microwave remote sensing, amateur radio, directed-energy weapon, millimeter wave scanner



This X band (in SHF) is contained in a frequency spectrum which has it's constituents allotted for various uses, this list will help to see frequency placements

Class Freq-
γGamma rays 300 EHzpm1.24 MeV
 30 EHz10 pm124 keV
HXHard X-rays 
 3 EHz100 pm12.4 keV
SXSoft X-rays 
 300 PHznm1.24 keV
 30 PHz10 nm124 eV
 3 PHz100 nm12.4 eV
Visible 300 THzμm1.24 eV
NIRNear infrared 
  30 THz10 μm124 meV
MIRMid infrared 
 3 THz100 μm12.4 meV
FIRFar infrared 
 300 GHzmm1.24 meV


EHFExtremely high
 30 GHzcm124 μeV
SHFSuper high
 3 GHzdm12.4 μeV
UHFUltra high
 300 MHzm1.24 μeV
VHFVery high
 30 MHz10 m124 neV
 3 MHz100 m12.4 neV
 300 kHzkm1.24 neV
 30 kHz10 km124 peV
VLFVery low
 3 kHz100 km12.4 peV
 VF /
Voice frequency /
Ultra low frequency
 300 HzMm1.24 peV
SLFSuper low
 30 Hz10 Mm124 feV
ELFExtremely low
 3 Hz100 Mm12.4 feV



recopy..... -141 dbm (1.75e-21kW).....The dbm is a standard we use for easy calculations when we are designing equipment....the db is decibel, a tenth of a bell, since a bell is to large a unit to use effectively, and the (m), is a milliwatt, or 1000th of a watt, which is more convenient for real world design use. This is a logarithmic scale that we use to compare two values. Since we use 1 milliwatt as our main reference, the quantity in question is the other. In layman terms, the signal measured will have increased or decreased, by an amount of db (logarithmically), from our reference. We use this because it is easy to convert by powers of ten, and the decibel scale is of half powers. A note here......3 db change means power is 1/2 if (-) and doubled if (+) for "power", hence dbm, voltage will use dbv, and 6 db changes then for 1/2 or double, due to the power equations in use. Example...-3 dbm is .5 milliwatt, -6 dbm is .25 milliwatt...keeps going by 1/2 for each 3 db or partial log value when not full 3....makes it really easy to perform calculations....all exponential. The bracketed value, this one provided by Nasa site. the -141 dbm (1.75e-21kW) for the time I mentioned above, is the equivalent power value, but for some strange reason, they chose kW as a reference for there exponential number, which, in my opinion was silly, when dealing with small signals. I would have used the standard watt as the reference value and attributed the exponential to it...splitting hairs, ...but silly.
Next, the exponential value, here, the -number, grouping of three are used and allotted names for easy vocal use...ie, 3 place holders smaller than the decimal point is milli...here is a chart

Below 1 watt[edit]

Below 1 yoctowatt[edit]

yoctowatt (10−24 watt)[edit]

zeptowatt (10−21 watt)[edit]

attowatt (10−18 watt)[edit]

  • 1 aW – phys: approximate power scale at which operation of nanoelectromechanical systems are overwhelmed by thermal fluctuations.[1]
  • 100 aW – tech: the GPS signal strength measured at the surface of the Earth,[clarification needed] roughly equivalent to viewing a 25-watt light bulb from a distance of 10,000 miles.[2]

femtowatt (10−15 watt)[edit]

  • 2.5 fW – tech: minimum discernible signal at the antenna terminal of a good FM radio receiver
  • 10 fW (−110 dBm) – tech: approximate lower limit of power reception on digital spread-spectrum cell phones

picowatt (10−12 watt)[edit]

  • 1 pW (−90 dBm) – biomed: average power consumption of a human cell
  • 18.4 pW – phys: power lost in the form of synchrotron radiation by a proton revolving in the Large Hadron Collider at 7000 GeV[3]
  • 150 pW – biomed: power entering a human eye from a 100-watt lamp 1 km away

nanowatt (10−9 watt)[edit]

  • 2–15 nW – tech: power consumption of 8-bit PIC microcontroller chips when in "sleep" mode

microwatt (10−6 watt)[edit]

milliwatt (10−3 watt)[edit]

  • 5 mW – tech: laser in a CD-ROM drive
  • 5–10 mW – tech: laser in a DVD player
  • 70 mW – tech: antenna power in a typical consumer wireless router
  • 500 mW - tech: maximum allowed carrier output power of an FRS radio

Between 1 and 1000 watts[edit]


  • 2 W – tech: maximum allowed carrier power output of a MURS radio
  • 4 W – tech: the power consumption of an incandescent night light
  • 4 W – tech: maximum allowed carrier power output of a 10-meter CB radio
  • 8 W – tech: human-powered equipment using a hand crank.[4]
  • 14 W – tech: the power consumption of a typical household compact fluorescent light bulb
  • 20–40 W – biomed: approximate power consumption of the human brain[5]
  • 30–40 W – tech: the power consumption of a typical household fluorescent tube light
  • 60 W – tech: the power consumption of a typical household incandescent light bulb
  • 100 W – biomed: approximate basal metabolic rate of an adult human body[6]
  • 120 W – tech: electric power output of 1 m2 solar panel in full sunlight (approx. 12% efficiency), at sea level
  • 130 W – tech: peak power consumption of a Pentium 4 CPU
  • 200 W – tech: stationary bicycle average power output[7][8]
  • 290 W – units: approximately 1000 BTU/hour
  • 300–400 W – tech: PC GPU Nvidia Geforce Fermi 480 peak power consumption[9]
  • 400 W – tech: legal limit of power output of an amateur radio station in the United Kingdom
  • 500 W – biomed: power output (useful work plus heat) of a person working hard physically
  • 745.7 W – units: 1 horsepower
  • 750 W – astro: approximately the amount of sunshine falling on a square metre of the Earth's surface at noon on a clear day in March for northern temperate latitudes
  • 909 W – biomed: peak output power of a healthy human (nonathlete) during a 30-second cycle sprint at 30.1 degree Celsius.[10]

Above 1000 watts[edit]

kilowatt (103 watts)[edit]

  • 1 kW to 3 kW – tech: heat output of a domestic electric kettle
  • 1.1 kW – tech: power of a microwave oven
  • 1.366 kW – astro: power per square metre received from the Sun at the Earth's orbit
  • 1.5 kW – tech: legal limit of power output of an amateur radio station in the United States
  • up to 2 kW – biomed: approximate short-time power output of sprinting professional cyclists and weightlifters doing snatch lifts
  • 2.4 kW (21,283 kWh/year) – geo: average power consumption per person worldwide in 2008[11]
  • 3.3–6.6 kW – eco: average photosynthetic power output per square kilometer of ocean[12]
  • 3.6 kW – tech: synchrotron radiation power lost per ring in the Large Hadron Collider at 7000 GeV[3]
  • 10 kW to 50 kW – tech: nominal power of clear channel AM[13]
  • 10.0 kW (87,216 kWh/year) – eco: average power consumption per person in the United States in 2008[11]
  • 16–32 kW – eco: average photosynthetic power output per square kilometer of land[12]
  • 30 kW – tech: power generated by the four motors of GEN H-4 one-man helicopter
  • 40 kW to 200 kW – tech: approximate range of power output of typical automobiles
  • 50 kW to 100 kW – tech: highest allowed ERP for an FM band radio station in the United States[14]
  • 167 kW – tech: power consumption of UNIVAC 1 computer
  • 250 kW to 800 kW – tech: approximate range of power output of 'supercars'
  • 450 kW – tech: approximate maximum power output of a large 18-wheeler truck engine

megawatt (106 watts)[edit]

  • 1.3 MW – tech: power output of P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft
  • 1.5 MW – tech: peak power output of GE's standard wind turbine
  • 2.4 MW – tech: peak power output of a Princess Coronation class steam locomotive (approx 3.3K EDHP on test) (1937)
  • 2.5 MW – biomed: peak power output of a blue whale
  • 3 MW – tech: mechanical power output of a diesel locomotive
  • 7MW - tech: mechanical power output of a Top Fuel dragster
  • 10 MW – tech: highest ERP allowed for an UHF television station
  • 10.3 MW – geo: electrical power output of Togo
  • 12.2 MW – tech: approx power available to a Eurostar 20-carriage train
  • 16 MW – tech: rate at which a typical gasoline pump transfers chemical energy to a vehicle
  • 26 MW – tech: peak power output of the reactor of a Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine
  • 75 MW – tech: maximum power output of one GE90 jet engine as installed on the Boeing 777
  • 140 MW – tech: average power consumption of a Boeing 747 passenger aircraft
  • 190 MW – tech: peak power output of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier
  • 900 MW – tech: electric power output of a CANDU nuclear reactor
  • 959 MW – geo: average electrical power consumption of Zimbabwe in 1998



Today, at 5:00 pm (EDT), with the Madrid dish, downlink is 3.16 kb/s, 8.44 Ghz, -141 dbm (1.75e-21kW)

Now we see how weak the signal really is...extremely weak. Why......the distance.....why.......isotropic dispersion....imagine a ball on a rod, an imaginary antenna, and radiate 1 watt. That one watt radiates in all direction and each, imaginary ray contains a portion of that 1 watt. Now beam form, and place that 1 watt in a tighter grouping, and transmit...better, but disperion still happens, and the greater the distance, the more dispersion.....until a receiver only receives (imagine a few rays, for giggles) a small portion of the effective radiated power from the transmitter. Now, if that isn't bad enough, we have background noise, ambient and thermal to deal with, not counting any interference that the signal may meet. The transmitters on the probe only has a fixed  power, RTG on the sat, and this limits the transmitter power to begin with. The ground station also has atmospheric concerns to deal with, especially on this band, where raindrops can attenuate the signal. The real data is buried in all kinds of noise, an algorithm is used for error detection and we have to hope we have enough signal to deal with...hence, the slow, deliberate data rate to enable detection of information from this weak mess of a signal. Thinking of it this way, it is quite amazing.....Hope this helps, and that you have not fell asleep on your keyboard.....:)


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Draggendrop    5,748

Video: The Many Mysteries of Pluto


The Many Mysteries of Pluto.   ESA/NASA

Before NASA's New Horizons probe flew past Pluto in July 2015, almost all of the information scientists had about this mysterious dwarf planet came from observations made by Hubble.

In the newest episode of the Hubblecast, we present Hubble's discoveries in the Pluto system and explore how Hubble will continue to advance knowledge of this distant, icy world following New Horizons' flyby.


Hubblecast 87: The many mysteries of Pluto

video is 5:42 min



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Unobscured Vision    2,688

And bear in mind that New Horizons is speeding away from the Pluto-Charon barycenter. Every second it is another 13.47 km further away. New Horizons is 85,361,592 km (55485034.8 miles) away from the Pluto-Charon system now. The signal is likely to be somewhat red-shifted, however slightly, because of this, and needs to be compensated for. Then we get atmospheric disturbances, clouds, raindrops that can (and DO) affect the already-weak signal and the data; not to mention the Sun itself that can really mess with reception like CME's, HPC Events from Coronal Holes, anything the Sun does is a factor.

Good thing about the data stream -- if we lose something, the craft can be ordered to retransmit that missing data later on, after the main bulk of the data transfer has been completed. It's not like with Voyager where once the data was uploaded it was gone for good. That data is stored now for transmission later. :yes:

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Arachno 1D    7,992

So once it reaches the new area of interest how long between transmission and reception phases and what sort of data rate might we expect in relation to that reached at the moment?

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DocM    16,804

It takes 42+ minutes for the signal to get to Earth, and the data rate is 1-2 kbits/second. 

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Unobscured Vision    2,688

Round-trip time for signals from New Horizons to Earth and back again is 9 hours 13 minutes, currently. The time increases by 1 second every 9 or so hours that the probe travels -- so half a second added on each way a signal is received or sent. So STT (Signal Time to Target) is 4 hours 36 minutes and 23 seconds as of five minutes ago when I looked here (John Hopkins Mission Site).

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Draggendrop    5,748

Check this out........

More Strange Images of Pluto

Pluto    NASA

The newest high-resolution images of Pluto from NASA's New Horizons are both dazzling and mystifying, revealing a multitude of previously unseen topographic and compositional details.


The image below -- showing an area near the line that separates day from night -- captures a vast rippling landscape of strange, aligned linear ridges that has astonished New Horizons team members.

"It's a unique and perplexing landscape stretching over hundreds of miles," said William McKinnon, New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team deputy lead from Washington University in St. Louis. "It looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology. This'll really take time to figure out; maybe it's some combination of internal tectonic forces and ice sublimation driven by Pluto's faint sunlight."

The "snakeskin" image of Pluto's surface is just one tantalizing piece of data New Horizons sent back in recent days. The spacecraft also captured the highest-resolution color view yet of Pluto, as well as detailed spectral maps and other high-resolution images.


A lot of Hi Res photo's here...these are amasing....


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Jim K    14,934

Pluto and Charon has been, simply put, fascinating.  Beyond what I had expected ... puzzling beautiful.  Amazing work of science, engineering and art.  Wish more people would get excited about this (and all the amazing work NASA does on such a minimal budget).

Bravo NASA...bravo.

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Draggendrop    5,748

NASA has proven, time and again, that they can take on the toughest science missions and succeed. What they have pulled off, this last decade, is simply astounding. This is why, I have always believed, that NASA needs a larger science budget, and leave the lifters to commercial...best of both worlds. To see the photo's, to date, from worlds so far away, put's life in perspective. All I can hope, is that science classes, in schools, are covering this and it spurs the younger ones into a new adventure.....

// maxed out my 2 Mb limit....will post later......:)



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Draggendrop    5,748

Misc articles and data....

Pluto Revealed: The Historic Voyage of New Horizons (Kavli Hangout)


On August 26, 2015, New Horizons team members Richard Binzel of theKavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Cathy Olkin of the Southwest Research Institute (SRI), along with Kavli Prize Laureate Michael Brown of the California Institute of Technology, joined The Kavli Foundation for a live discussion. These planetary scientists answered questions about the mechanisms that might be shaping Pluto's landscape  and what this strange new world can tell us about the other bodies at the solar system's fringes.

The article has a Q & A section,....nothing too stunning, but mention that, internal forces would not be necessary for the glaciation movement on Pluto, since it's orbit can be 30 to 50AU in variation, as well as a century, where the south pole faces the sun. This would allow the nitrogen to change states from solid to gas and continually feed the atmosphere, where as, smaller Kuiper belt objects would not have the ice mass, and would "run out" of solids.


'Snakeskin' and Methane Ice: Amazing New High-Resolution Images and Maps of Pluto From New Horizons



Perplexing Pluto: New ‘Snakeskin’ Image and More from New Horizons


Both articles have similar write-ups and stunning pictures...too data intensive to show here with a small limit...samples...


The Ralph/LEISA infrared spectrometer on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft mapped compositions across Pluto’s surface as it flew by on July 14. On the left, a map of methane ice abundance shows striking regional differences, with stronger methane absorption indicated by the brighter purple colors here, and lower abundances shown in black. Data have only been received so far for the left half of Pluto’s disk. At right, the methane map is merged with higher-resolution images from the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).


This cylindrical projection map of Pluto, in enhanced, extended color, is the most detailed color map of Pluto ever made. It uses recently returned color imagery from the New Horizons Ralph camera, which is draped onto a base map of images from the NASA’s spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). The map can be zoomed in to reveal exquisite detail with high scientific value. Color variations have been enhanced to bring out subtle differences. Colors used in this map are the blue, red, and near-infrared filter channels of the Ralph instrument.
Later.....:).........buggy editor again...excuse me......
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Jim K    14,934



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Draggendrop    5,748

Pluto's Big Moon Charon Reveals a Colorful and Violent History

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has returned the best color and the highest resolution images yet of Pluto's largest moon, Charon - and these pictures show a surprisingly complex and violent history.

At half the diameter of Pluto, Charon is the largest satellite relative to its planet in the solar system. Many New Horizons scientists expected Charon to be a monotonous, crater-battered world; instead, they're finding a landscape covered with mountains, canyons, landslides, surface-color variations and more.

"We thought the probability of seeing such interesting features on this satellite of a world at the far edge of our solar system was low," said Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team from the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, "but I couldn't be more delighted with what we see!"


NASA's New Horizons captured this high-resolution enhanced color view of Charon just before closest approach on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft's Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC); the colors are processed to best highlight the variation of surface properties across Charon. Charon's color palette is not as diverse as Pluto's; most striking is the reddish north (top) polar region, informally named Mordor Macula. Charon is 754 miles (1,214 kilometers) across; this image resolves details as small as 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers).

More Images....

High-resolution images of the Pluto-facing hemisphere of Charon, taken by New Horizons as the spacecraft sped through the Pluto system on July 14, and transmitted to Earth on Sept. 21, reveal details of a belt of fractures and canyons just north of the moon's equator. This great canyon system stretches across the entire face of Charon, more than a thousand miles, and probably around onto Charon's far side. Four times as long as the Grand Canyon, and twice as deep in places, these faults and canyons indicate a titanic geological upheaval in Charon's past.

"It looks like the entire crust of Charon has been split open," said John Spencer, deputy lead for GGI at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "In respect to its size relative to Charon, this feature is much like the vast Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars."

The team has also discovered that the plains south of the canyon, informally referred to as Vulcan Planum, have fewer large craters than the regions to the north, indicating that they are noticeably younger. The smoothness of the plains, as well as their grooves and faint ridges, are clear signs of wide-scale resurfacing.

One possibility for the smooth surface is a kind of cold volcanic activity, called cryovolcanism. "The team is discussing the possibility that an internal water ocean could have frozen long ago, and the resulting volume change could have led to Charon cracking open, allowing water-based lavas to reach the surface at that time," said Paul Schenk, a New Horizons team member from the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

Even higher-resolution Charon images and composition data are still to come as New Horizons transmits data, stored on its digital recorders, over the next year - and as that happens, "I predict Charon's story will become even more amazing!" said mission Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

The New Horizons spacecraft is currently 3.1 billion miles (5 billion kilometers) from Earth, with all systems healthy and operating normally.

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


 Flying Over Charon

video 0:20 min


Similar article at....


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Charon takes center stage in new batch of New Horizons images

With a meandering canyon system four times as long, and twice as deep, as the Grand Canyon in the American Southwest, the crust of Pluto’s moon Charon may have been shaped by violent eruptions and complicated geology once thought improbable for such a small body in the far depths of the solar system, scientists said Thursday.

Two-and-a-half months on from its historic first-ever encounter with Pluto on July 14, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is beaming home bits of data and imagery a little at a time, its radio link with Earth strained by the probe’s location 3.1 billion miles away.

The latest pictures released Thursday illustrate Charon as a complex world covered in ridges, canyons, mountains and different colors, with a noticeable change in terrain between the moon’s northern and southern hemispheres.

Said Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons geology team from the SETI Institute and NASA’s Ames Research Center: “We thought the probability of seeing such interesting features on this satellite of a world at the far edge of our solar system was low, but I couldn’t be more delighted with what we see!”

Although Charon is relatively modest in size — just slightly bigger than Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt — it has more than half the diameter of its companion Pluto. The similar sizes make Pluto and Charon a binary planet, where they move around each other in a wobbly 6.4-day orbit centered on a point in space just outside Pluto.

Many scientists expected Charon to be dull, gray and pockmarked with craters like the moon, but the story is changing.

Images released Thursday by NASA are the best views yet of Charon — even sharper views are still to come — and show a network of canyons and crevasses just north of the moon’s equator. Scientists say the chasms stretch more than 1,000 miles across the face of Charon observed by New Horizons during its July flyby, and apparently wraps around to the unseen far side of the frozen world.

“Four times as long as the Grand Canyon, and twice as deep in places, these faults and canyons indicate a titanic geological upheaval in Charon’s past,” NASA said in a press release.

The New Horizons spacecraft downlinked the pictures showing the canyon system Sept. 21. The images were captured just before the probe’s closest approach to Charon.

“It looks like the entire crust of Charon has been split open,” said John Spencer, deputy lead for the mission’s geology, geophysics and imaging team at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “In respect to its size relative to Charon, this feature is much like the vast Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars.”

Farther to the south, the rugged canyon lands give way to a smooth plain informally dubbed Vulcan Planum. Geologists say the region appears to be younger than the terrain to the north, a sign that something resurfaced that part of Charon more recently.

“The team is discussing the possibility that an internal water ocean could have frozen long ago, and the resulting volume change could have led to Charon cracking open, allowing water-based lavas to reach the surface at that time,” said Paul Schenk, a New Horizons team member from the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

The eruptions could have spewed material across Charon’s landscapes, refreezing to cover up ancient craters and other features now more prevalent in the northern hemisphere.


There are three hi-res pictures, at the link...I am at my upload limit today..sorry, I couldn't post them...Later.....:)

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Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto


Pluto   NASA

The first color images of Pluto's atmospheric hazes, returned by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft last week, reveal that the hazes are blue.


Image: Pluto's haze layer shows its blue color in this picture taken by the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC). The high-altitude haze is thought to be similar in nature to that seen at Saturn's moon Titan. The source of both hazes likely involves sunlight-initiated chemical reactions of nitrogen and methane, leading to relatively small, soot-like particles (called tholins) that grow as they settle toward the surface. This image was generated by software that combines information from blue, red and near-infrared images to replicate the color a human eye would perceive as closely as possible. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The first color images of Pluto's atmospheric hazes, returned by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft last week, reveal that the hazes are blue.

"Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It's gorgeous," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.

The haze particles themselves are likely gray or red, but the way they scatter blue light has gotten the attention of the New Horizons science team. "That striking blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles," said science team researcher Carly Howett, also of SwRI. "A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger but still relatively small soot-like particles we call tholins."

Scientists believe the tholin particles form high in the atmosphere, where ultraviolet sunlight breaks apart and ionizes nitrogen and methane molecules and allows them to react with one another to form more and more complex negatively and positively charged ions. When they recombine, they form very complex macromolecules, a process first found to occur in the upper atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. The more complex molecules continue to combine and grow until they become small particles; volatile gases condense and coat their surfaces with ice frost before they have time to fall through the atmosphere to the surface, where they add to Pluto's red coloring.

In a second significant finding, New Horizons has detected numerous small, exposed regions of water ice on Pluto. The discovery was made from data collected by the Ralph spectral composition mapper on New Horizons.



Water Ice on Pluto: Regions with exposed water ice are highlighted in blue in this composite image from New Horizons' Ralph instrument, combining visible imagery from the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) with infrared spectroscopy from the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA). The strongest signatures of water ice occur along Virgil Fossa, just west of Elliot crater on the left side of the inset image, and also in Viking Terra near the top of the frame. A major outcrop also occurs in Bar Montes towards the right of the image, along with numerous much smaller outcrops, mostly associated with impact craters and valleys between mountains. The scene is approximately 280 miles (450 kilometers) across. Note that all surface feature names are informal. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

"Large expanses of Pluto don't show exposed water ice," said science team member Jason Cook, of SwRI, "because it's apparently masked by other, more volatile ices across most of the planet. Understanding why water appears exactly where it does, and not in other places, is a challenge that we are digging into."

A curious aspect of the detection is that the areas showing the most obvious water ice spectral signatures correspond to areas that are bright red in recently released color images. "I'm surprised that this water ice is so red," says Silvia Protopapa, a science team member from the University of Maryland, College Park. "We don't yet understand the relationship between water ice and the reddish tholin colorants on Pluto's surface."

The New Horizons spacecraft is currently 3.1 billion miles (5 billion kilometers) from Earth, with all systems healthy and operating normally.

Larger images


Did Pluto’s Moon Charon Get Smacked Upside Its Head? | Video 

video is 1:31 min....good one


Nasa Videos of Space CHARON Plutos Moon - A closer look from NEW HORIZONS

Video is 3:53 min...not bad....



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Unobscured Vision    2,688

It's possible that the water ice has trapped those Tholins and had some sort of Cryo-Chemical reaction. They can test this in labs to see if that's what is taking place easily enough.

Fascinating data coming back, and plenty more to come. :yes:

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Draggendrop    5,748

The instruments have done well, considering the age due to construction and probe transit to the area. We have been getting great data from other missions as well. In the future, it would be nice to have another  vehicle which could launch a lander or sampler spikes for sample analysis. The photo's being received are amazing, almost like being there and seeing this for the first time in person.....:D

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Pluto's Small Moons Nix and Hydra

The orbits of Pluto and its moons Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra are illustrated around their common center of mass. Image courtesy SwRI/S. Porter. For a larger version of this image please gohere.

This week's beautiful Charon images remind us that Pluto is not just one body; it's a whole system of worlds.

Pluto and its largest moon Charon dance around each other, making circles around their common center of mass, which lies in an empty space between them. Around the dancing couple are four small moons. In order of increasing distance, their names are Styx (just beyond Charon), then Nix, Kerberos and Hydra. These tiny moons also orbit around the system's center of mass.

The orbits line up like a miniature solar system, except with a binary system at the center, similar to the planetary system around the star Kepler 47. All four of the small moons are less than about 30 miles (50 kilometers) in their longest dimension. Each has a lumpy shape because, unlike Pluto and Charon, they aren't big enough for gravity to squish them into a ball.

Nix and Hydra were discovered in 2005, shortly before New Horizons launched in 2006, and their initials were a subtle nod to the New Horizons mission that started the search for them, just as the P and L in Pluto are a subtle nod to astronomer Percival Lowell, who began the search for Pluto.

Styx and Kerberos weren't discovered until 2011 and 2012, well after the New Horizons spacecraft was on its way to Pluto. Although the mission's observing plans were pretty well set by then, the New Horizons science team anticipated that new discoveries from other facilities might be made during the long cruise to Pluto and had left room for a handful of "TBD" observations, which became the only ones specifically devoted to Kerberos and Styx. That's why New Horizons took many more pictures of Nix and Hydra than of Styx and Kerberos.

Nix is the second-largest of Pluto's small moons and was the closest to New Horizons during the flyby, so we got better imaging of it than any of the other small moons. So far, we've been able to download close-up pictures of Nix taken at three different times by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) high-resolution camera, but the best image is still on the spacecraft's digital recorders waiting to come to Earth.

From looking at Nix as point of light with the Hubble Space Telescope and with New Horizons on approach, we knew that Nix's brightness regularly changed over time, and therefore it was probably elongated. However, the first image (on the left) really surprised us, because Nix appeared to be round-not at all elongated.

Mark Showalter - who discovered Styx and Kerberos - pointed out that we were probably just looking down the long axis, and that the next images would look more "potato-ish." Sure enough, the next image showed Nix looking far more elongated, but with one great surprise in it: a big crater! Nix isn't very large, and there is a very fine line between an impact that will make a crater that big and one that will break Nix apart. So either Nix was very lucky in surviving that collision, or it's a fragment of an older moon that was somehow destroyed.

The last Nix image we have so far was taken right after the spacecraft passed Pluto and started to look back on its crescent. Because Nix has no atmosphere, it isn't as spectacular as the images looking back at Pluto, but measuring the brightness of that little crescent of light can help tell us about what the surface of Nix is made of, and whether its surface is smooth or covered in boulders.

What we do know about the big crater on Nix is that it appears to be a different color than the rest of the moon. The color image below was taken by New Horizons' Ralph-Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) three minutes before the LORRI picture; MVIC has one-fourth of LORRI's resolution, but it can see in four colors: blue, red, near-infrared, and methane.

In this image, the RGB colors are mapped to near-IR, red and blue, just like the enhanced-color images of Pluto and Charon. While most of Nix is a neutral white, the crater and its ejecta blanket (the material thrown out by the crater) appear to be a much redder material. Craters excavate material from below and throw it on the surface. This tells us that under its white surface, Nix is probably made of much darker material. We don't actually know what either the dark or the light material is, nor will we be able to tell until we download the Nix data from the Ralph-Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) composition mapping spectrometer.

New Horizons also imaged Hydra and has sent some of these images to Earth. Below is the best LORRI image of Hydra taken by New Horizons. Unfortunately, Hydra was on the opposite side of Pluto from New Horizons at closest approach, so the images of Hydra are from farther away and therefore are at lower resolution than the Nix images we have.

Because Hydra's orbit was still somewhat uncertain, the mission planners designed this observation to be a mosaic of six slightly-overlapping shots. As it turns out, we hit the jackpot and Hydra fell right at the intersection of four of those six shots, meaning we got two full and two half-views of Hydra for the price of one!

The composite of these images shows that Hydra has a much more complicated shape than Nix and looks a bit like a much bigger version of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is currently being orbited by the Rosetta spacecraft. As some have proposed for 67P, it is possible that Hydra is the result of a low-speed collision of two older moons. We haven't yet had a chance to download the LORRI images of Styx and Kerberos, but they are coming soon, and will be of similar resolution to this image of Hydra.

Finally, I want to tell you how I processed these images of Nix and Hydra. I created them in Python with AstroPy to read the images and translate from pixels to on-sky coordinates, and Scikit-Image to process and sharpen the images. LORRI's pixels are smaller than the resolution limit of the imager, which makes the images appear a little bit blurry. But since the optics of LORRI are very stable, we can use a process called "deconvolution" to back out what the image would have been if the camera were perfectly sampled.

This makes the images sharper, but also adds "noise." We can minimize the noise by taking several deconvolved images and finding the median value at each pixel location; this keeps the real detail while throwing out much of the deconvolution noise. Both Astropy and Scikit-Image are free and open sources, and make astronomical image processing fun (and a bit addicting) for anyone with a basic knowledge of Python.


This article mentions photo's...but forgot to include them.......but are available in a similar article in a Nasa blog here...


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Two Small Pluto Moons Get Their Close-Ups (Photos)

Pluto’s moon Nix is shown in high-resolution black-and-white and lower-resolution color in this image captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its July 2015 flyby.

Pluto's small moons are starting to come out into the light.

The most jaw-dropping photos captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft during its historic July flyby of Pluto depict the dwarf planet or its largest moon, Charon. But New Horizons also imaged Pluto's four small satellites — Styx, Kerberos, Nix and Hydra — all of which are less than 30 miles (50 kilometers) wide. And early analyses suggest that these moons are plenty interesting in their own right. 

For example, flyby photos of Nix reveal a big crater on the potato-shaped body.


 Pluto’s moon Nix, as viewed at three different times by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its July 2015 flyby.


"Nix isn't very large, and there is a very fine line between an impact that will make a crater that big and one that will break Nix apart," New Horizons team member Simon Porter, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, wrote in a blog post last week. "So, either Nix was very lucky in surviving that collision, or it's a fragment of an older moon that was somehow destroyed."

Furthermore, the crater is much redder than the rest of Nix.

"Craters excavate material from below and throw it on the surface. This tells us that under its white surface, Nix is probably made of much darker material," Porter wrote. "We don't actually know what either the dark or the light material is, nor will we be able to tell until we download the Nix data from the Ralph-Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) composition mapping spectrometer" aboard New Horizons.

New Horizons sent home a small portion of its data shortly after the July 14 flyby, but the probe stored the vast majority on board for later transmission. That data dump began in earnest last month, and it should be complete by the end of 2016, mission team members have said.

Images of Hydra also reveal intriguing details. For example, the moon has a "rubber ducky" shape similar to that of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, which Europe's Rosetta mission has been orbiting since August 2014.



 Pluto’s moon Hydra, as seen by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015.


Scientists think Comet 67P may have formed from the merger of two separate bodies, and the same phenomenon may be responsible for the shape of Hydra, Porter wrote.

Photos focusing on Styx and Kerberos haven't been received at mission control yet, he added. 

Pluto was discovered in 1930, and Charon — which is about half as wide as the dwarf planet — was first spotted in 1978. Nix and Hydra eluded detection until 2005, while Styx and Kerberos weren't detected until 2011 and 2012, respectively.  


We should have some stuff available shortly.......:) 

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Draggendrop    5,748

Two articles today....more of the same stuff...but with a few new observations. I'll just quote a few goodies and post links, as the articles are long with some HD photo's.......

Pluto's Striking Surface Variations

Pluto isn't alone in having water ice on its surface -- measurements indicate that Nix and Hydra, two of Pluto's five moons, are also covered with water ice. However, the bright surfaces of the two moons surprise astronomers because a variety of external processes should have darkened the surfaces of these moons over time. The rotational patterns of Pluto's moons also puzzle astronomers, as the two moons do not always have the same face locked toward Pluto.

"We knew Nix and Hydra were slowly tumbling in unpredictable ways, based on ground-based findings we published earlier this summer in Nature. With New Horizons data, we now believe Nix and Hydra are spinning really fast and rotating in an odd way, and may be the only regular moons, meaning satellites that are near their host planets, which do not always point the same face toward their primary body," said Hamilton, an astronomy professor at UMD who discovered Pluto's moon Kerberos in 2011 with Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute.

According to Hamilton, the strange rotation patterns of these two moons could be due to the system's domination by Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, which together form a "binary planet."

"It's possible that Nix and Hydra can't focus on locking one face toward Pluto because Charon keeps sweeping past and stirring things up," said Hamilton.


Pluto Is Beautiful, Complex and Thoroughly Puzzling for Scientists


Over the past three months, mission scientists have been releasing flyby images and observations, as well as their interpretations of this information, in a series of news conferences and press releases. And now the mission team, led by Stern, has integrated many of these findings and more in its first scientific paper based on close-approach data.

For example, the new study, which came out online today (Oct. 15) in the journal Science, reports the discovery of Norgay Montes and Hillary Montes, the water-ice mountain ranges on Pluto that rise 1.2 miles to 1.9 miles (2 to 3 km) above surrounding terrain, as well as other, lower peaks.

Some of these smaller mountains may in fact be icebergs, massifs that are separated from the bedrock and float on a sea of frozen nitrogen, said study co-author Bill McKinnon, deputy leader of New Horizons' geology, geophysics and imaging team at Washington University in St. Louis. [Flying Over Pluto: Ice Mountains and Young Plains (Video)]

Active Pluto

The paper also provides details about Sputnik Planum, the huge frozen plain that Norgay Montes and Hillary Montes abut. Sputnik Planum has no detected craters, suggesting that the landscape there has been resurfaced within the last 100 million years — extremely recently in the scope of geological time.

That revelation came as a big surprise, because many scientists had suspected that Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) have long been "dead" internally.

"Finding that Pluto is geologically active after 4.5 billion years — there's not big enough typeface to write that in," Stern said. "It's unbelievable."


The second article is a good read......:) 

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Draggendrop    5,748

Here are the published results, from the preliminary analysis, of received data, from the mission, posted at ScienceMag.org

reading the full text online is free...need to be a member to download the pdf....

The Pluto system: Initial results from its exploration by New Horizons



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Draggendrop    5,748

This post is not a hard science one...but a fun science break...with Pluto and Charon

Millions of Earthlings populate Pluto in NASA's photo mosaics


By now most of you have probably seen at least a few of the iconic photos of Pluto beamed back to Earth from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. Now you can relive them in a new, down-to-Earth way.

NASA just released three huge mosaic images of Pluto and its largest moon Charon compiled from thousands photos sent in by people all over the world. The photos were sent in by members of the public for NASA's Pluto Time campaign, which encouraged space fans to go outside and snap an image when the sunlight in their parts of the world matched the lighting conditions at noon on Pluto, where sunlight is much, much weaker.

The space agency built a tool called Pluto Time that tells users when to head outside to see their own personal Pluto high noon in whatever city they find themselves in.

“We realized that we could make a web tool that would estimate approximately when the light levels dropped to Pluto levels,” Alex Parker, New Horizons scientists, said in a statement. “We looked up tables of illumination levels during various stages of twilight — used to determine when streetlights come on and such — and determined how low the sun would need to be on a clear day to match Pluto.”

Apparently, people were into it.

NASA clocked more than 339,000 visits to the Pluto Time tool since it went live in June, and the agency got close to 7,000 photo submissions for the mosaics. In total, the scientists creating the images used 1,500 to 2,100 photos for each one, NASA said.

The mosaic makers also included at least one spacey Easter egg in the image produced of Pluto.

NASA used an image of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930, in the mosaic as part of the informally named Tombaugh Regio area of Pluto's icy heart. (The space agency actually highlighted that image in red in this mosaic.)

“It’s gratifying to see the global response to Pluto Time, which allowed us to imagine what it’s like on Pluto, some 3 billion miles away,” Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science, said in the statement. “This is a wonderful example of how space exploration and science unite us with a common bond.”

NASA's New Horizons made its closest approach with Pluto in July and, since then, the spacecraft has been sending back photos of never-before-seen views of the dwarf planet. The New Horizons mission marks the first time humans have ever studied Pluto from close range.

You can also get a detailed look at all the Pluto mosaics via GigaPan.





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New Horizons Completes Targeting Maneuvers

Getting the data: Following the last in a series of four maneuvers targeting NASA's New Horizons spacecraft toward Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, flight controller George Lawrence monitors spacecraft data as it streams into the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on Nov. 4, 2015. Image courtesy NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has successfully performed the last in a series of four targeting maneuvers that set it on course for a potential January 2019 encounter with 2014 MU69. This ancient body in the Kuiper Belt is more than a billion miles beyond Pluto; New Horizons will explore it if NASA approves an extended mission.

The four propulsive maneuvers were the most distant trajectory corrections ever performed by any spacecraft. The fourth maneuver, programmed into the spacecraft's computers and executed with New Horizons' hydrazine-fueled thrusters, started at approximately 1:15 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Nov. 4, and lasted just under 20 minutes.

Spacecraft operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, began receiving data through NASA's Deep Space Network just before 7 p.m. EST on Wednesday indicating the final targeting maneuver went as planned.

The maneuvers didn't speed or slow the spacecraft as much as they "pushed" New Horizons sideways, giving it a 57 meter per second (128 mile per hour) nudge toward the Kuiper Belt object (KBO). That's enough to allow New Horizons to intercept MU69 in just over three years.

"This is another milestone in the life of an already successful mission that's returning exciting new data every day," said Curt Niebur, New Horizons program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "These course adjustments preserve the option of studying an even more distant object in the future, as New Horizons continues its remarkable journey."

The New Horizons team will submit a formal proposal to NASA for the extended mission to 2014 MU69 in early 2016. The science team hopes to explore even closer to MU69 than New Horizons came to Pluto on July 14, which was approximately 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers).

"New Horizons is healthy and now on course to make the first exploration of a building block of small planets like Pluto, and we're excited to propose its exploration to NASA," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.

The KBO targeting maneuvers were the mission's largest and longest, and carried out in a succession faster than any sequence of previous New Horizons engine burns. They were also accurate, performing almost exactly as they were designed and setting New Horizons on the course mission designers predicted. "The performance of each maneuver was spot on," said APL's Gabe Rogers, New Horizons spacecraft systems engineer and guidance and control lead.

The first three maneuvers were carried out on Oct. 22, 25 and 28. At the time of the Nov. 4 maneuver, New Horizons, speeding toward deeper space at more than 32,000 miles per hour, was approximately 84 million miles (135 million kilometers) beyond Pluto and nearly 3.2 billion miles (about 5.1 billion kilometers) from Earth.

The spacecraft is currently 895 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) from MU69. All systems remain healthy and the spacecraft continues to transmit data stored on its digital recorders from its flight through the Pluto system in July.


Diagram showing the path of New Horizons through the Solar System, past Pluto. The positions of the planets are as they will be on Jan. 1, 2019 when New Horizons arrives at its next target, 2014 MU69. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI



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Young crater discovered on Charon; Pluto crescent image released

Charon’s Young Ammonia Crater. The informally named Organa crater (shown in green) is rich in frozen ammonia and – so far – appears to be unique on Pluto’s largest moon. Credits: NASA / JHU-APL / SwRI

A crater on the Pluto-facing side of the distant natural satellite Charon is profoundly different from other, older craters on the large moon’s surface – its ammonia-rich composition showing it to be unusually young.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has sent back its highest infrared composition scans of Charon. While studying them, New Horizons mission scientists found that the crater, unofficially named Organa, and surrounding ejected material, known as ejecta, absorbs infrared at wavelengths of 2.2 microns, confirming a composition of frozen ammonia.

In contrast, a nearby crater unofficially named Skywalker is composed primarily of water ice, much like most of the craters on Charon’s surface. Both Organa and Skywalker are about three miles (five km) in diameter. The craters resemble one another in that both are surrounded by thin rays of ejecta, but their appearances are slightly different – Organa’s ejecta has a dark central region.

A map created from data taken by the Ralph/LEISA instrument shows ammonia-rich material extending beyond the crater’s central dark area.

“Why are these two similar-looking and similar-sized craters, so near to each other, so compositionally distinct?” questioned New Horizons Composition team lead Will Grundy of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, the site where Pluto was first discovered in 1930.

“We have various ideas when it comes to the ammonia in Organa. The crater could be younger, or perhaps the impact that created it hit a pocket of ammonia-rich subsurface ice. Alternatively, maybe Organa’s impactor delivered its own ammonia,” Grundy speculated.

Bill McKinnon, deputy lead of the mission’s Geology, Geophysics, and Imaging (GGI) team, noted that ammonia, which acts as an anti-freeze, could indicate Charon’s surface has been formed by cryovolcanism.

If the ammonia is coming from Charon’s interior, it could be erupting onto the surface within cold, ammonia-water magmas, he explained.

A composite image of Charon showing both Organa and Skywalker was created from Ralph/LEISA data taken when New Horizons was within 50,000 miles (81,000 km) of the large moon on July 14.  The spatial resolution is three miles (five km) per pixel.



This composite image is based on observations from the New Horizons Ralph/LEISA instrument made at 10:25 UT (6:25 a.m. EDT) on July 14, 2015, when New Horizons was 50,000 miles (81,000 kilometers) from Charon. The spatial resolution is 3 miles (5 kilometers) per pixel. The LEISA data were downlinked Oct. 1-4, 2015, and processed into a map of Charon’s 2.2-micron ammonia-ice absorption band. Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) panchromatic images used as the background in this composite were taken about 8:33 UT (4:33 a.m. EDT) July 14 at a resolution of 0.6 miles (0.9 kilometers) per pixel and downlinked Oct. 5-6. The ammonia absorption map from LEISA is shown in green on the LORRI image. The region covered by the yellow box is 174 miles across (280 kilometers). (Click to enlarge.)  Image & Caption Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SwRI

Panchromatic images taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were used to create the background in the composite image. The ammonia-absorption area is highlighted in green while the region within the yellow box is 174 miles (280 km) across.

The New Horizons team also released a new image showing Pluto’s crescent taken 15 minutes after closest approach as the spacecraft looked back at Pluto in the direction of the Sun. Additional processing by the science team since the September release of the stunning Pluto backlit image enabled the team to create entire, detailed images of the small backlit planet.

Taken at a wide angle by New Horizons’ Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 km), with a resolution of 0.4 miles (700 meters), the image shows more than a dozen layers of Pluto’s surrounding haze.



This image was made just 15 minutes after New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, as the spacecraft looked back at Pluto toward the Sun. The horizontal streaks [seen in the enlarged image (click to view/zoom)] in the sky beyond Pluto are stars, smeared out by the motion of the camera as it tracked Pluto. Image & Caption Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SwRI

Silhouettes of Pluto’s jagged terrain are visible on the night (left) side while the smooth Sputnik Planum can be seen on the sunlit (right) side, along with the 11,000-foot (3,500-meter) high water ice mountains to the plain’s left. The Hillary Montes range can be seen outlined against the sky while the Norgay Montes range is visible in the image’s foreground. Glaciers that break up more rugged terrain can be seen to the east of (below) Sputnik Planum. Along the top of Pluto’s disk, viewers can see the shadow cast by the planet on its atmospheric hazes. Horizontal streaks in the background beyond Pluto are actually stars smeared by the cameras as they focused on Pluto.
Meanwhile, the spacecraft successfully carried out its third maneuver toward its next target – Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69 – on October 28. The primordial KBO is located one billion miles beyond Pluto. New Horizons will make its closest approach to the tiny object on January 1, 2019. The spacecraft’s third of four targeting maneuvers, conducted via its hydrazine-fueled thrusters, was the largest move it has ever undertaken, and lasted approximately 30 minutes.

Through NASA’s Deep Space Network, mission controllers received data eight hours after the 1:15 p.m. EDT maneuver confirming its success.

A final maneuver is scheduled for November 4 – though additional ones may be done in the future as more is learned about the orbit of 2014 MU69 and its location.

New Horizons’ science team, which plans to submit a formal proposal to NASA for an extended mission in 2016, hopes to fly even closer to this KBO than the 7,750-mile (12,500-km) closest approach to Pluto.

Traveling at more than 32,000 miles per hour, New Horizons is now 79 million miles (127 million km) past Pluto, 3.17 billion miles (5.1 billion km) from Earth, and 900 million miles (1.45 billion km) from 2014 MU69, with all its systems and instruments remaining healthy.




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More Strange Things On and Around Pluto

Possible cryovolcano on Pluto    NASA

From possible ice volcanoes to twirling moons, NASA's New Horizons science team is discussing more than 50 exciting discoveries about Pluto at this week's 47th Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in National Harbor, Maryland.



"The New Horizons mission has taken what we thought we knew about Pluto and turned it upside down," said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "It's why we explore -- to satisfy our innate curiosity and answer deeper questions about how we got here and what lies beyond the next horizon."

For one such discovery, New Horizons geologists combined images of Pluto's surface to make 3-D maps that indicate two of Pluto's most distinctive mountains could be cryovolcanoes -- ice volcanoes that may have been active in the recent geological past.

"It's hard to imagine how rapidly our view of Pluto and its moons are evolving as new data stream in each week. As the discoveries pour in from those data, Pluto is becoming a star of the solar system," said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "Moreover, I'd wager that for most planetary scientists, any one or two of our latest major findings on one world would be considered astounding. To have them all is simply incredible."

The two cryovolcano candidates are large features measuring tens of miles or kilometers across and several miles or kilometers high.

"These are big mountains with a large hole in their summit, and on Earth that generally means one thing -- a volcano," said Oliver White, New Horizons postdoctoral researcher at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "If they are volcanic, then the summit depression would likely have formed via collapse as material is erupted from underneath. The strange hummocky texture of the mountain flanks may represent volcanic flows of some sort that have traveled down from the summit region and onto the plains beyond, but why they are hummocky, and what they are made of, we don't yet know."

While their appearance is similar to volcanoes on Earth that spew molten rock, ice volcanoes on Pluto are expected to emit a somewhat melted slurry of substances such as water ice, nitrogen, ammonia, or methane. If Pluto proves to have volcanoes, it will provide an important new clue to its geologic and atmospheric evolution.

"After all, nothing like this has been seen in the deep outer solar system," said Jeffrey Moore, New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team leader, at Ames.

Pluto's Long History of Geologic Activity

Pluto's surface varies in age -- from ancient, to intermediate, to relatively young --according to another new finding from New Horizons.

To determine the age of a surface area of the planet, scientists count crater impacts. The more crater impacts, the older the region likely is. Crater counts of surface areas on Pluto indicate that it has surface regions dating to just after the formation of the planets of our solar system, about four billion years ago.

But there also is a vast area that was, in geological terms, born yesterday -- meaning it may have formed within the past 10 million years. This area, informally named Sputnik Planum, appears on the left side of Pluto's "heart" and is completely crater-free in all images received, so far.

New data from crater counts reveal the presence of intermediate, or "middle-aged," terrains on Pluto, as well. This suggests Sputnik Planum is not an anomaly -- that Pluto has been geologically active throughout much of its more than 4-billion-year history.

"We've mapped more than a thousand craters on Pluto, which vary greatly in size and appearance," said postdoctoral researcher Kelsi Singer, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. "Among other things, I expect cratering studies like these to give us important new insights into how this part of the solar system formed."

Building Blocks of the Solar System

Crater counts are giving the New Horizons team insight into the structure of the Kuiper Belt itself. The dearth of smaller craters across Pluto and its large moon Charon indicate the Kuiper Belt, which is an unexplored outer region of our solar system, likely had fewer smaller objects than some models had predicted.

This leads New Horizons scientists to doubt a longstanding model that all Kuiper Belt objects formed by accumulating much smaller objects --less than a mile wide. The absence of small craters on Pluto and Charon support other models theorizing that Kuiper Belt objects tens of miles across may have formed directly, at their current -- or close to current -- size.

In fact, the evidence that many Kuiper Belt objects could have been "born large" has scientists excited that New Horizons' next potential target -- the 30-mile-wide (40-50 kilometer wide) KBO named 2014 MU69 -- which may offer the first detailed look at just such a pristine, ancient building block of the solar system.

Pluto's Spinning, Merged Moons

The New Horizons mission also is shedding new light on Pluto's fascinating system of moons, and their unusual properties. For example, nearly every other moon in the solar system -- including Earth's moon -- is in synchronous rotation, keeping one face toward the planet. This is not the case for Pluto's small moons.

Pluto's small lunar satellites are spinning much faster, with Hydra -- its most distant moon -- rotating an unprecedented 89 times during a single lap around the planet. Scientists believe these spin rates may be variable because Charon exerts a strong torque that prevents each small moon from settling down into synchronous rotation.

Another oddity of Pluto's moons: scientists expected the satellites would wobble, but not to such a degree.

"Pluto's moons behave like spinning tops," said co-investigator Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

Images of Pluto's four smallest satellites also indicate several of them could be the results of mergers of two or more moons.

"We suspect from this that Pluto had more moons in the past, in the aftermath of the big impact that also created Charon," said Showalter.

To view more images and graphics being presented by New Horizons scientists at the 47th Annual Meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences, visit:


For more information on NASA's New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, videos and images, visit:




NASA Blames “Organizational Confusion” for Embargo on Latest New Horizons Results 

Scientists presented Nov. 9 the most detailed analysis to date of data returned to Earth by the New Horizons spacecraft, nearly four months after it flew past Pluto and its moons. Credit: NASA

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Scientists involved with NASA’s New Horizons mission showed off the latest analysis of data collected during the spacecraft’s flyby of Pluto in July, despite “organizational confusion” at the event that mistakenly prevented attendees from initially sharing the results with the public.

The results of an initial analysis of the data returned to date from the spacecraft, presented during sessions of the annual conference of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Science (DPS) here Nov. 9, include the discovery of possible ice volcanoes on the surface of Pluto and an atmosphere colder and more compact than previously expected.

“Pluto and its system of satellites has really outsmarted us,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, during a press conference about some of the results presented at the conference. The surprises scientists have discovered about the distant world, he said, stem from a “vast variety of landforms” seen on its surface and evidence for changes to it over time.

One of the major findings presented at the conference was the discovery of a pair of mountains, informally named Wright Mons and Piccard Mons. The shapes of the mountains, and the presence of depressions at the summits, suggest to scientists that they are volcanoes that would erupt ice, rather than molten rock.

“Nothing like this has ever been seen in the outer part of the solar system,” said Oliver Wright of NASA’s Ames Research Center. If that explanation is correct, he said, “that would be one of the most phenomenal discoveries of New Horizons and make Pluto an even more fascinating and unique place.”

Other results from the conference showed that Pluto’s tenuous atmosphere — its surface pressure is only ten millionths that of the Earth’s atmosphere — is colder and more compact than initially expected. That suggests that far less of the atmosphere is escaping to space than expected.

“This changes our thinking of the long-term evolution of Pluto and its atmosphere,” said Leslie Young of the Southwest Research Institute. That includes losing far less of the ice on Pluto’s surface than originally thought. “The atmosphere has some huge implications for the history of the geology of Pluto.”

The DPS conference is the first scientific meeting where scientists involved with New Horizons have presented results since July’s flyby. “That is the milestone that really marks the beginning of the scientific process,” said Curt Niebur, a program scientist working in the planetary sciences division of NASA Headquarters. “This is when the debates begin.”

However, that debate of the findings was initially limited to the people attending the meeting. Attendees of the morning conference sessions Nov. 9 were told that the results were embargoed until a midday press conference. This prevented both scientists and reporters from sharing the results presented in those talks to the public, including through social media, much to the consternation of some in attendance.

Sources at the conference blamed the embargo on NASA, in contrary to the conference embargo policy established for conferences run by the American Astronomical Society. Niebur said later that the embargo was a misunderstanding that won’t apply to other sessions during the week-long conference. “There was some kind of miscommunication,” he said. “There was a little bit of organizational confusion.”

Members of the mission team emphasized that the results are still preliminary, based on just the small fraction of the data returned to date. Stern said only about 20 percent of the flyby data has been transmitted so far, given the spacecraft’s distance from the Earth and access to the Deep Space Network. It will take about a year to transmit the remaining data. “You can either be frustrated that the data is not on the ground, or you can just look of it as new presents landing every week,” said Stern.

And, with only that preliminary data, some scientists were cautious about making many conclusions. John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute, in a talk about searches for small moons and dust surrounding Pluto, decided not to discuss any implications of the findings to date. “We have no idea what any of this means at this point,” he said.




Here is the slides for the presentations...some nice shot's....


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