It’s time to get up close and personal with Pluto’s dark, rugged highlands – informally named Krun Macula. (Krun is the lord of the underworld in the Mandaean religion, and a ‘macula’ is a dark feature on a planetary surface.).
This enhanced color view from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft zooms in on the southeastern portion of Pluto’s great ice plains. Krun Macula rises 1.5 miles above Pluto’s icy surface, and the craters that decorate it typically reach between 5 and 8 miles across!
The amazing image below was crafted using three separate observations made by New Horizons as it flew by Pluto in July 2015. It represents pieces of the highest and second-highest resolution observations gathered by the spacecraft.
Why does Pluto have that dark rust color? According to NASA, Pluto is believed to get its deep red color from tholins, complex molecules found across much of the surface.
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We are witnessing history, people! NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the first in a series of the sharpest views of Pluto it snapped during its flyby in July. According to NASA, these are the best close-up images of Pluto we may see for decades.
The photo above is the highest-resolution image showing huge blocks of Pluto’s icy crust slammed together in the al-Idrisi mountains. The series of detailed images features a sequence taken near New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto. These photos capture the beauty and diversity of Pluto’s terrain.
“The mountains bordering Sputnik Planum are absolutely stunning at this resolution,” said New Horizons science team member John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute. “The new details revealed here, particularly the crumpled ridges in the rubbly material surrounding several of the mountains, reinforce our earlier impression that the mountains are huge ice blocks that have been jostled and tumbled and somehow transported to their present locations.”
With resolutions of about 250-280 feet (77-85 meters) per pixel, NASA was able to capture features less than half a city block wide on the surface. The sequence – which forms a strip 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide on a world 3 billion miles away – shows Pluto’s massive craters, mountains, ice fields and glaciers.
The New Horizons spacecraft transmits recorded data from its flight through the Pluto system on July 14th every week. Mission scientists expect to receive more amazing images of Pluto over the next few days.
Aren’t you excited to see what they find?
Layered Craters and Icy Plains. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Pluto’s ‘Badlands.’ Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured Pluto rotating over the course of a full “Pluto day.” Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Scientists were stunned after viewing the latest images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. Not only is the surface of Pluto covered in large icy mountains, low-lying hazes, and streams of frozen nitrogen – it also looks eerily like the arctic.
The photo below was taken just 15 minutes after New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015. The spacecraft looked back toward the sun and caught this backlit panorama of Pluto’s rugged mountains and flat icy plains. The backlighting highlights over a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s atmosphere. Trippy! 🌒
This new view offers a unique look at Pluto’s varied terrains and atmosphere. It was taken by New Horizons’ wide-angle Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14 and downlinked to Earth on Sept. 13. Below is a close up of Pluto’s majestic icy mountains and flat glassy plains. It was taken at a distance of 11,000 miles.
“This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains.”
Let me quickly break down the geography of Pluto’s ‘heart.’ Sputnik Planum is the name of the smooth region on the left of the heart. The white upland region on the right may be coated in nitrogen ice that evaporated from the surface of Sputnik. The box shows the location of the glacier detail image below.
Space has been all the rage this month! NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft made a historic trip to Pluto, the Kepler exoplanet explorer discovered Kepler-452b, and three new crew members successfully joined the ISS. Let me catch you up here! 🌎🚀
NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”
Kepler-452b is 60 percent bigger in diameter than Earth and scientists feel there is a good chance its rocky, although its mass and composition are currently unknown.
“We can think of Kepler-452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler data analysis lead at NASA, who led the team that discovered Kepler-452b. “It’s awe-inspiring to consider that this planet has spent 6 billion years in the habitable zone of its star; longer than Earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet.”
The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.
A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between flat, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain. The image below was taken by New Horizons on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 48,000 miles and sent back to Earth on July 20.
Pluto’s largest moon Charon has snagged most of the press lately, but there are two smaller moons – Nix and Hydra – that were the second and third moons to be discovered.
Pluto’s jelly bean shaped moon Nix (left), has a reddish spot that has attracted the interest of mission scientists. Nix is estimated to be 26 miles long and 22 miles wide. Pluto’s awkwardly shaped moon Hydra (right) is 34 miles in length. The black and white image taken by New Horizons on July 14 reveals features as small as 0.7 miles.
International Space Station
Three crew members representing the United States, Russia and Japan have arrived at the International Space Station to continue important research!
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Kimiya Yui launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:02 p.m. EDT Wednesday (3:02 a.m., Thursday, July 23 in Baikonur) and docked at the station at 10:45 p.m. They will be aboard the ISS for five months and are expected to return to Earth at the end of December.
The three men join Expedition 44 commander Gennady Padalka of Roscosmos and flight engineers Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos, who have been aboard the complex since March 27.
Click the video below to see the successful launch of the Russian Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft on July 23, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
It’s official – the world has Pluto fever! NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just completed its nearly decade long mission to fly by the dwarf planet Pluto. Christmas has come early for the scientific community as the exciting discoveries keep rolling in! What they’ve learned over the past week will blow your mind. 🌖🚀
Icy mountains on Pluto and a new, crisp view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries announced Wednesday by NASA’s New Horizons team, just one day after the spacecraft’s first ever Pluto flyby. Here is a collection of incredible photos that highlight just a few of NASA’s recent findings. Feel free to geek out – such an exciting time! 🚀
“Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations.”
New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise — a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body. Credits: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI
Pluto’s tiny potato-shaped moon Hydra emerges from the shadows, revealing its irregularly shaped body characterized by significant brightness variations over the surface. Credit: NASA
Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles. Credit: NASA
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. Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
A portrait from the final approach. Pluto and Charon display striking color and brightness contrast in this composite image from July 11. Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI
This graphic presents a view of Pluto and Charon as they would appear if placed slightly above Earth’s surface and viewed from a great distance. Recent measurements obtained by New Horizons indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 2370 km, 18.5% that of Earth’s, while Charon has a diameter of 1208 km, 9.5% that of Earth’s. Credit: NASA
New Horizons Flight Controllers celebrate after they received confirmation from the spacecraft that it had successfully completed the flyby of Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 in the Mission Operations Center (MOC) of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Maryland. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Even President Obama got in on the Pluto action! Twitter: @POTUS
New Horizons has obtained impressive new images of Pluto and its large moon Charon that highlight their compositional diversity. These are not actual color images of Pluto and Charon—they are shown here in exaggerated colors. Image Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI
New Horizons spacecraft. Image/File credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/David Napolillo