Above, an image (click to enlarge) captured by the New Horizons spacecraft with enhanced colours to show differences in the composition and texture of Pluto’s surface. The images were taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometres, Derek) away.
The team responsible for the New Horizons flyby of Pluto last week released new pictures Friday of the previously unexplored world on the edge of the solar system. blowing discoveries.”
The spacecraft, now 7.5 million miles beyond Pluto, has detected layers of haze stretching 100 miles (160 kilometres) into the atmosphere, much higher than anticipated. All this haze is believed to account for the dwarf planet’s reddish colour.
If you were standing on Pluto and looking up, you probably wouldn’t notice the haze, said George Mason University’s Michael Summers. In fact, New Horizons had to wait until after its closest approach on July 14, so the sun would silhouette Pluto and the atmosphere could be measured by means of the scattered sunlight.
As for the ice flows, they appear to be relatively recent: no more than a few tens of millions of years, according to William McKinnon of Washington University in St. Louis. That compares with the 4.5 billion-year age of Pluto and the rest of the solar system.
To see evidence of such recent activity, he said, is “simply a dream come true.” Temperatures on Pluto are minus 380 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 229 degrees Celsius), and so water ice would not move anywhere in such extreme cold. But McKinnon said the nitrogen and other ices believed to be on Pluto would be geologically soft and therefore able to flow like glaciers on Earth.
Some of that Plutonian ice seems to have emptied into impact craters, creating ponds of frozen nitrogen. One of those semi-filled craters is about the size of metropolitan Washington D.C., McKinnon said.
These latest findings support the theory that an underground ocean might exist deep beneath Pluto’s icy crust, McKinnon said. These ice flows — which might still be active — are found on Pluto’s vast icy plain, now called Sputnik Planum after Earth’s first man-made satellite. The plain is about the size of Texas and occupies the left side of Pluto’s bright heart-shaped feature, named Tombaugh Regio after the late astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh.
It’s evident now that the two “lobes” of the heart are quite different; Stern speculated that nitrogen snow could possibly be blowing from the brighter left, or western, side to the right. One of Pluto’s newly discovered mountain ranges now bears the name of Sir Edmund Hillary, who along with Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest in 1953. The New Horizons team already had named another series of mountains after Norgay.
The spacecraft travelled 3 billion miles over nine and a half years to get the first close-up look of Pluto. The New Horizons team stressed that most of the collected data are still aboard the spacecraft and will take more than a year to obtain. Over the next several weeks, much of the incoming transmissions will consist of engineering or other technical data — and only a few images.
But starting in mid-September, “the spigot opens again,” promised Stern, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute. From then until fall 2016, “The sky will be raining presents with data from the Pluto system. It’s going to be quite a ride.”
British Gazette comment: These gifts to humanity made by NASA (and the US taxpayers) take two forms: For scientists and academics, the contribute to the expanding store of humanity’s knowledge. For most of us however there is another gift: to our imaginations. They help them soar! Soar 4.67 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometres, Derek) – the distance Pluto currently is from Earth – to a point 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometres) away from this world to look down on a sight that all previous generations of humanity could not see. Then that spacecraft of our imagination turns around to view OUR star the Sun, now but a star amongst the others in the heavens. Although it is easily the brightest and most prominent star, it is “a star” and not the Sun – in the sense that we can look at it without incurring irreparable damage to our (imaginary) eyes. It is at that point of distance we can FINALLY look back at that point in space where Earth appears like a point of light in space and REALISE the transient nature of our existence and then realise the desultory petty scale of those sad and demented murderous bigots such as IS now busy wreaking their destruction on the archaeological gem that was Palmyra in Syria.
As Charles Dickens’s “Spirit of Christmas Present” said, “Oh the insect on the leaf…..” And that is their curse. These murderous morons have NO imagination! They cannot and will not see beyond their all consuming religious bigotry which makes THEIR world so TINY! Truly, if these morons are to be compared to any species, let it be insects.
Returning to the more uplifting subject of Pluto itself, the planet’s Classically inspired name creates an interesting link between mythology and present reality.
As British Gazette readers will recall, Pluto was the ruler of the underworld in Roman mythology. His earlier name was Hades, which became more common as the name of the underworld itself. The Romans however had “borrowed” their “Gods” from the Greeks. In ancient Greece, Pluto represented a more positive concept of a god that presided over the afterlife. It is this link with the mythology of ancient Greece that has a tenuous link with reality. This is because as one of the largest objects within the Kuiper belt, Pluto’s gravity exercises an influence of the other objects including those cosmic rocky snowballs that become comets. Thus it is that Pluto’s invisible hands cast those snowballs towards the Sun whose rays in turn cause such brilliant spectacles for us.
The Kuiper belt, named after Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper, is a region of the Solar System beyond the planets, extending from the orbit of Neptune (at 30 AU) to approximately 50 AU from the Sun. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but it is far larger—20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies, or remnants from the Solar System’s formation. Although many asteroids are composed primarily of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed “ices”), such as methane, ammonia and water.
Although Pluto has been aptly named, the region of space in which it lies has not been correctly named. It should properly be called the Edgeworth Belt – it could then be conveniently referred to as “the Edge.”
This is because it was Kenneth Essex Edgeworth, DSO, MC (26 February 1880 – 10 October 1972) was an British-Irish astronomer, economist and engineer. It was he who proposed the existence of a disc of icy bodies beyond the orbit of Neptune in the 1940s in much the same manner as Gerard Kuiper would publish ten years later. Observations later confirmed the existence of what has become known, somewhat controversially, as the Kuiper belt. Gerard Kuiper postulated that such a belt could have been present following the formation of the solar system but would have disappeared by the present day.
Kenneth Edgeworth was born in Streete, County Westmeath, where his uncle built an observatory. After winning a scholarship to study in Britain, he would go on to a military career as an officer with the Royal Engineers, earning decorations during World War I. He is also one of the last winners of the Pollock Medal. He returned to Ireland in the 1930s, and became both a published international economist and planetary astronomer.
There were two reasons why Kenneth Edgeworth was not honoured as he should have been: One was that Gerrit Pieter Kuiper was regarded accepted as a prominent scientist as Kenneth Edgeworth was not. The other of course that the Dutch born Kuiper had become a US citizen.