Pluto: New Horizons Space Probe
provides closest-ever pictures


Pluto: The Ice Plot Thickens
July 15, 2015




Pluto: The Ice Plot Thickens
Release Date: July 15, 2015

The latest spectra from New Horizons Ralph instrument reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences from place to place across the frozen surface of Pluto.


"We just learned that in the north polar cap, methane ice is diluted in a thick, transparent slab of nitrogen ice resulting in strong absorption of infrared light," said New Horizons co-investigator Will Grundy, Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona. In one of the visually dark equatorial patches, the methane ice has shallower infrared absorptions indicative of a very different texture. "The spectrum appears as if the ice is less diluted in nitrogen," Grundy speculated "or that it has a different texture in that area."

An Earthly example of different textures of a frozen substance: a fluffy bank of clean snow is bright white, but compacted polar ice looks blue. New Horizons' surface composition team, led by Grundy, has begun the intricate process of analyzing Ralph data to determine the detailed compositions of the distinct regions on Pluto.

This is the first detailed image of Pluto from the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array, part of the Ralph instrument on New Horizons. The observations were made at three wavelengths of infrared light, which are invisible to the human eye. In this picture, blue corresponds to light of wavelengths 1.62 to 1.70 micrometers, a channel covering a medium-strong absorption band of methane ice, green (1.97 to 2.05 micrometers) represents a channel where methane ice does not absorb light, and red (2.30 to 2.33 micrometers) is a channel where the light is very heavily absorbed by methane ice. The two areas outlined on Pluto show where Ralph observations obtained the spectral traces at the right. Note that the methane absorptions (notable dips) in the spectrum from the northern region are much deeper than the dips in the spectrum from the dark patch. The Ralph data were obtained by New Horizons on July 12, 2015.

Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI?

Views of Pluto Through the Years
July 15, 2015




Views of Pluto Through the Years
Date: 15 Jul 2015


This animation combines various observations of Pluto over the course of several decades. The first frame is a digital zoom-in on Pluto as it appeared upon its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 (image courtesy Lowell Observatory Archives). The other images show various views of Pluto as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope beginning in the 1990s and NASA's New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. The final sequence zooms in to a close-up frame of Pluto released on July 15, 2015.

Credit: NASA


Charon's 'Mountain in a Moat'
July 15, 2015




Charon's 'Mountain in a Moat'
Date: 15 Jul 2015

This new image of an area on Pluto's largest moon Charon has a captivating feature-a depression with a peak in the middle, shown on the lower left of the inset.

The image shows an area approximately 200 miles (300 kilometers) from top to bottom, including few visible craters. "The most intriguing feature is a large mountain sitting in a moat," said Jeff Moore with NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California, who leads New Horizons' Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team. "This is a feature that has geologists stunned and stumped."

This image gives a preview of what the surface of this large moon will look like in future close-ups from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. This image is heavily compressed; sharper versions are anticipated when the full-fidelity data from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) are returned to Earth.

The rectangle superimposed on the global view of Charon shows the approximate location of this close-up view.

The image was taken at 6:30 a.m. EDT (10:30 UTC) on July 14, 2015, about 1.5 hours before closest approach to Pluto, from a range of 49,000 miles (79,000 kilometers).

Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI



 

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Pluto: The Ice Plot Thickens - Methane on Pluto