Images Credit & Copyright: NASA/Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Lab (JHUAPL)/ New Horizons Spacecraft.
What a week it’s been as New Horizons finally makes its Pluto flyby after traveling almost ten years and more than three billion miles to get there. I have been eagerly waiting for the chance to write this but of course it also turned out to be a week that had me working 70+ hours so 3hr sleep took precedence over writing. So with New Horizons rapidly moving into the unknown let’s take a look at some of the incredible imagery that’s already been delivered.
Close approach took place on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at 11:49:57 UTC (07:49:57 EDT) and came as close as 8,000 miles from Pluto’s surface. For something that’s been flying through space since January 19, 2006 (3,462d 16h 49m 57s to be exact) and racked up a distance of 31.9 astronomical units (AU) or about three billion miles, that’s what I’d call, threading the needle.
The “Full Pluto” headline image was captured on July 13, from a distance of about 476,000 mi. (768,000 km) and it shows the 1,000 mi. (1,600 km) region known as the Heart of Pluto or the Head of Pluto the Dog in great detail. This image was the last image sent to Earth by New Horizons before close approach.
The second image was captured on July 14 about 1.5 hours before close approach and from a distance of about 47,800 mi. (77,000 km) and it’s just amazing that we’re looking at Pluto from this distance. The young (yes young) 100 million year old surface shows 11,000 ft. (3,500 m) tall ice mountains and it’s uncertain as to what created them. On a 4.5 billion year-old planet, 100 million years isn’t that long ago.
Charon turned out to be a real treat as well. This image, captured by New Horizons on July 13 shows the 729 mi (1,208 km) diameter “moon” from a distance of 289,000 mi (466,000 km). Even at this distance we can clearly make out a large canyon near the top right of the image that appears to be about 5 mi (8 k) deep as well as a rugged line of terrain that crosses the face, near the bottom or just beyond what would be the equatorial region running from middle right to lower left. This cliff region seems to stretch 600 mi (1,000 km) or nearly the entire face of the moon. Of course the region that commands our attention is the dark polar region at the top. Wonderfully angled and dark, speculation seems to be leaning toward a thin layer of material that’s been deposited.
The next set of images shows the Pluto, Charon together as a pair. The images as we have seen above were actually taken separately and later brought together to show a great size and nearly true color side by side of the two. The second, obviously false color image has been highlighted to show differences in land material and formations.
Finally, let’s remember that Pluto and family are tiny in comparison to Earth. The 1,472 mi. (2,370 km) Pluto and the 729 mi. (1,208 km) Charon if placed side by side wouldn’t even cross the United States. Earth’s Moon at 2,159 mi. (3,474 km) is much larger and 5 times more massive than Pluto. Not that size matters in the world of inhabitable planets, I’m just throwing it out there.
New Horizons Main Mission Site: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/index.php
Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/112289660627388606639/about
NASA New Horizons Page: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html
Here’s a couple previous Pluto/New Horizons based articles I’ve written:
What Time is it? Pluto Time! https://danspace77.com/2015/06/09/what-time-is-it-pluto-time/
New Horizons Mission is Set to Begin: https://danspace77.com/2014/07/17/nasas-new-horizons-mission-set-to-begin/