NASA’s New Horizons mission will be at a critical interval of accomplishment last week when Pluto is visited by a spacecraft for the first time in recorded history.
Recent data from the New Horizons spacecraft reveals interesting details about the Dwarf Planet.
Did you expect Pluto to be red? That’s right, Pluto is just about as red as Mars.
The face of Pluto turns exactly as Charon orbits around it because the bodies are tidally locked; that means the same faces of Pluto and Charon constantly face each other as Charon orbits, pulling on Pluto to make it spin.
These are actual, reconstructed images of the surfaces of Pluto and Charon. Pluto is now known to have varying shades of color on its surface.
Here’s an animation of Pluto turning as Pluto’s large moon Charon orbits around it:
They are both dark and light—and almost as red as Mars. “Black spots” were discovered on the surface of Pluto that scientists now call “brass knuckles.”
The tidal lock means Pluto is technically a binary system—one of the only examples of that phenomena in the known solar system. Pluto also orbits a point of gravity outside of itself, spinning around a point.
This is a picture of Pluto with its Moons.
Principal engineer Tiffany Finely said “Our data rate to the spacecraft right now is one kilobit per second,” and “with all of the data that we’re taking through the few days leading up to the Pluto flyby and then a few days afterwards, it’s going to take us a whole year to download all of that data.”
Photos of Pluto’s surface (and other details we eagerly anticipate) may come sooner than a year from now. A clear answer of exactly when the photos will be revealed is difficult to find, but official statements imply we will see Pluto up close soon.
“This object is unlike any other that we have observed,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado said. “Both Pluto and Charon [its largest moon] are already surprising us.”
This is another animation of Pluto, spinning up close with a map of detailed color:
Here are some pictures of Pluto in the meantime.
One of Pluto’s latest, closest, and most accurate photos:
An old but gold photo of Pluto
Pluto Safari is an app for Android that enables users to observe New Horizons. It is also available for Apple phones and an accessible way to view the groundbreaking exploration.
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