All eyes are set on July 14. NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft will pass Pluto and give us never before seen details of the dwarf planet and its moon, Charon. New Horizons may still be a ways away from the Pluto system, but it’s making new discoveries.
Today, NASA released a set of images of Pluto and Charon. Charon’s images are the most interesting of the pair. Note the dark region at its pole in the image below.
“This system is just amazing,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator. “The science team is just ecstatic with what we see on Pluto’s close approach hemisphere: Every terrain type we see on the planet—including both the brightest and darkest surface areas —are represented there, it’s a wonderland!”
“And about Charon—wow—I don’t think anyone expected Charon to reveal a mystery like dark terrains at its pole,” he added. “Who ordered that?”
The images were captured using New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).
You see how the image on the right is clearer than the one on the left? New Horizons’ team used a technique called deconvolution. The images’ contrast is stretched to bring out additional details. Deconvolution can sometimes produce artifacts so scientists will want to confirm the features as New Horizons gets closer to Pluto.
Still, the latest images suggest Charon has an incredibly diverse landscape.
The same effect is used on the photos of Pluto.
Check out how the large dark regions give Pluto a rough, non-spherical appearance. Scientists know from previous data that Pluto is a near perfect sphere.
What do we know about Pluto
Pluto’s extreme distance from Earth makes it hard to study. In fact, New Horizons is setting a record for the farthest distance travelled to its primary science target.
Pluto is believed to be made up of a rocky core with an icy surface. The icy surface is likely made up of mostly nitrogen with traces of methane and other exotic ices.
The temperature on Pluto sits between a frosty -375 and -400 degrees Fahrenheit. You’re going to need a jacket, but at least you will weigh less. Pluto’s light gravity makes a 200-pound person on Earth weigh just 17 pounds on Pluto. Take that Nutrisystem.
Another interesting fact about Pluto is its unique orbit. Most planets orbit the Sun in a near-perfect circle with the Sun at the center. Not Pluto. Its orbit is highly elliptical (oval).
There is just so much we don’t know about Pluto.
We are about 20 days away from seeing one of our solar system’s most distant objects in a whole new light.
Image credits: NASA. Top image: Artist concept of Pluto and New Horizons