During NASA’s New Horizons’ closest approach, it spotted a cluster of craters at the far western reaches of its view. The science team has dubbed them ‘haloed’ craters because of their appearance.

Pluto halo craters

You can see how the colors contrast sharply between the crater floors and its walls and rims in the black and white image above. That contrast isn’t just in the visible spectrum. Here’s what the same area looks like when viewing it through New Horizons’ Ralph/Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA).

Pluto halo craters methane

See the brighter purples around each crater? It’s an indicator of bright methane ice. The crater floors and surrounding terrain show signs of water ice, as seen in blue. What scientists are trying to figure out is why the bright methane ice settles on the crater rim and walls. Plus, it appears much brighter than the surrounding methane ice. The New Horizons team also isn’t sure why this region is home to brighter methane ice compared to the rest of Pluto’s surface.

Scientists are hoping additional images and data can shed light on this area. New Horizons continues the long, tedious process of sending data back from its close encounter last summer.

[ecko_contrast]Did You Know: You can watch New Horizons send its data back to Earth via NASA’s Deep Space Network website. Right now, the Canberra dish is receiving New Horizons data at a blistering 4.21 kb/sec.[/ecko_contrast]

New Horizons data downlinking

Via NASA’s Deep Space Network. Click the ‘more detail tab’ to see all info.

How does New Horizons’ data speed compare with other spacecraft? Cassini (orbiting Saturn) is sending data to Canberra at 33.18 kb/sec. Dawn (orbiting Ceres in the asteroid belt) is downlinking data at 62.50kb/sec. The Chandra X-Ray Observatory (orbiting Earth) is sending data back at 1.19 Mb/sec. You can see how data speeds are directly connected to the distance from Earth.

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New Horizons continues to venture further out into our solar system and sits 5.23 billion kilometers away according to the Deep Space Network data.

Gravity waves on Pluto?

Earlier this month, the New Horizons team announced the layers of Pluto’s haze vary in brightness “depending on illumination and viewpoint.” Scientists believe gravity waves may be the reason why. These waves form as air flows over mountain waves. We know these waves exist on Earth and Mars. And it looks like we can add Pluto to the list.

Pluto haze

While the haze varies in brightness, it’s vertical structure stays the same. Here’s what Andy Cheng, LORRI (New Horizons’ imager) principal investigator had to say about the discovery. “Pluto is simply amazing,” said Cheng. “When I first saw these images and the haze structures that they reveal, I knew we had a new clue to the nature of Pluto’s hazes. The fact that we don’t see the haze layers moving up or down will be important to future modelling efforts.”

Images via NASA

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