The New Horizons spacecraft has revealed several unseen scenes of Pluto and its moons. They do indeed give one pause for thought.
Go back 365 days in the past and Pluto was just a dot on the horizon of the New Horizons spacecraft. In fact, it wasn’t very different from photographs taken by a telescope.
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Discovered in 1930, Pluto has been reclassified as not being a planet by astronomers in the post-millennial years. This week scientists compiled a set of comprehensive pics of Pluto and its moons taken by the flyby space probe that took place last year.
The five complex papers, describing results from last summer’s Pluto system flyby, published this week in the journal Science.
“These five detailed papers completely transform our view of Pluto – revealing the former ‘astronomer’s planet’ to be a real world with diverse and active geology, exotic surface chemistry, a complex atmosphere, puzzling interaction with the sun and an intriguing system of small moons,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.
These papers show the wonderful world of Pluto to be much more variegated than the expectations of humans on earth. It has a lot of topographical diversity and its geological features are brimming with activity.
The surface has a chemistry of its own and its climate is one of great depth. Its interactions with the sun are a puzzle even now. As for its moons, they exhibit many features that make then quite an interesting series of phenomena.
The New Horizons spacecraft traveled about 3 billion miles in a period of approximately 9.5 years. The scientific instruments recorded about 50 gigabits of data.
The first close up pics showed a heart-shaped feature carved on the surface of Pluto. An observation of Pluto and Charon (its moon) showed many geological anomalies that pointed out errors in the scientists’ assumptions about heavenly bodies that were so far away from the sun.
“Observing Pluto and Charon up close has caused us to completely reassess thinking on what sort of geological activity can be sustained on isolated planetary bodies in this distant region of the solar system, worlds that formerly had been thought to be relics little changed since the Kuiper Belt’s formation,” said Jeff Moore, lead author of the geology paper from NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California.
Pluto’s land features and atmospheric composition are formed of a mixture of volatile methane, nitrogen and carbon monoxide ice with water ice. It is indeed a strange and bizarre world. Many cycles of evaporation and condensation have taken place through the eons on its surface.
The stuff that goes on in Pluto is far more complex and interesting than what goes on in earth. It may harbor no life forms, but chemically and physically, it is a very active world.
The effects of the chemical interactions on Pluto’s surface can be seen clearly in its many variegated surface features. Pluto’s interaction with the solar wind is another key point to be noted.
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Methane is the main gas that is escaping from Pluto. Nitrogen remains intact on the surface though. Furthermore, Pluto has several tiny moons. Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra are four of the most prominent ones.