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Tag: New Horizons (Page 1 of 4)

NASA releases images captured at a record-breaking 3.79 billion miles from Earth

new horizons

NASA has a whole lot of fancy image-gathering hardware on Earth and in space, and we've seen countless of stunning snapshots taken from here on Earth as well as nearby planets like Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The pictures are often gorgeously detailed eye candy, but the latest batch of images from the space agency is remarkable for an entirely different reason. Captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, the images were gathered at a greatest distance from Earth than any in the history of mankind.

So, just how far is "the farthest ever"? Right around 3.79 billion miles. Yeah, it's kind of crazy. There are three images in total, each focusing on a different distant object. The subjects include the 'Wishing Well' star cluster as well as two large objects in the Kuiper Belt which have never been observed from such a distance before.

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NASA releases images captured at a record-breaking 3.79 billion miles from Earth originally appeared on on Mon, 12 Feb 2018 at 10:33:08 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

New NASA flyovers get you closer to Pluto and Charon than you ever could’ve imagined

Pluto New Horizon flyby

The New Horizons spacecraft has Pluto well and truly in the rear-view mirror by now, as it's on the way to check out the Kuiper Belt. But the magic of space exploration is that long after the probe has departed, scientists still have mountains of data to sift over.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of New Horizons' flyby of Pluto, NASA's team of scientists has put together a two-minute video of a Pluto flyby, based on elevation data and observations made by New Horizons during its short but glorious mission.

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The long wait to send a probe to Pluto, and what we’ve found

(credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

BOSTON—Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, started his talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting by showing off the Hubble Space Telescope's best image of Pluto. It was greeted by laughter, as it took only seconds for the audience to count the dozen pixels that contained actual data. “You may laugh again," Stern said. "We wrote numerous papers based on this image.”

He's now got a lot more data to work with, though he had to be very patient to get it. Not only did it take months to get all the data from New Horizons back to Earth, but it took decades to get the probe approved in the first place. Stern shared that tale with his audience in Boston.

Expanding Horizons

The astronomy community periodically gets together to do what are called Decadal Surveys, which help NASA set priorities for future missions. But as Stern put it, these surveys consider “many more good ideas than there is budget to execute.” So, Pluto missions had appeared in them five times without being approved. But a variety of data on Pluto trickled in even without a visit, and this gradually built the case for sending hardware there.

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Pluto’s Sputnik Planum is an ocean of slowly shifting nitrogen ice

Some of the strange features in Sputnik Planum. (credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

The stunning images returned from New Horizons' flyby of the Pluto revealed a tremendous amount about the dwarf planet's features. That's been followed with the long, hard slog of trying to figure out how these features got there. One of the most striking things that needs an explanation is the apparent youth of Pluto's surface, as some areas appear to be crater-free, including the huge area called Sputnik Planum.

Now, researchers are offering an explanation for Sputnik Planum's apparent youth. Two papers in this week's edition of Nature indicate that radioactivity from Pluto's core would be sufficient to power convection of nitrogen ice. But the huge volume of ice involved creates another mystery, as it appears that almost all of Pluto's inventory of this element somehow ended up in Sputnik Planum.

Here on Earth, nitrogen is a gas, making up the majority of our atmosphere. Those who have spent some time in a lab may be familiar with its liquid form, used for things that have to be cooled well below environmental temperatures. But on Pluto, it's typically cold enough—about 35K—that the majority of the dwarf planet's nitrogen is in solid form. This nitrogen ice has a couple of unusual properties. One is that it's much denser than water ice, which would allow the equivalent of icebergs to float on its surface. The other is that, since it's not held together by strong interactions among nitrogen molecules, it's relatively easy to deform.

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Early results from New Horizons’ rendezvous with Pluto

Enlarge / The dwarf planet Pluto (colors enhanced to show differences). (credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

When the New Horizons spacecraft sent back its first images of Pluto in July, the view was glorious and extraordinary. It’s not every day that we get to see a (dwarf) planet up close for the first time. As planetary scientists scrambled to put the pieces of their blown minds back together, we got some initial observations and hypotheses about Pluto’s surprising surface. But the bulk of the data from New Horizons’ brief encounter had yet to be transmitted back to Earth. As that data continues to stream in, more detailed science is being done.

This week in Science, a stack of five papers lays the foundation for that science by describing Pluto’s geology and atmosphere, as well as that of Charon and the smaller satellites orbiting the dwarf planet with the big heart.

That includes a basic description of the Plutonian landscape—at least the hemisphere that greeted the New Horizons spacecraft on approach. The lower quality data from the other side will eventually be analyzed as well.

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