What Are The Whale And The Donut On Pluto?

Posted: Jul 8 2015, 2:37am CDT | by , in Latest Science News


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What are the Whale and the Donut on Pluto?
This map of Pluto, made from images taken by the LORRI instrument aboard New Horizons, shows a wide array of bright and dark markings of varying sizes and shapes. Perhaps most intriguing is the fact that all of the darkest material on the surface lies along Pluto’s equator. The color version was created from lower-resolution color data from the spacecraft’s Ralph instrument. Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI

NASA released a new map of Pluto showing the dark spots named Whale and Donut.

NASA released a new map of Pluto compiled from the latest images New Horizons has sent from June 27 to July 3. The center of the map above corresponds to the side of Pluto that will be seen close-up during the New Horizons flyby on July 14.

The long dark area informally known as whale, along the equator on the left side of the map, is one of the darkest regions visible to New Horizons. It measures some 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers) in length.

Directly to the right of the whale’s “head” is the brightest region visible on the planet, which is roughly 990 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. This may be a region where relatively fresh deposits of frost—perhaps including frozen methane, nitrogen and/or carbon monoxide—form a bright coating.

Continuing to the right, along the equator, we see the four mysterious dark spots that have so intrigued the world, each of which is hundreds of miles across. Meanwhile, the whale’s “tail,” at the left end of the dark feature, cradles a bright area shaped like a donut about 200 miles (350 kilometers) across.

At first glance it resembles circular features seen elsewhere in the solar system, from impact craters to volcanoes. But scientists are holding off on making any interpretation of this and other features on Pluto until more detailed images are in hand. If we will find out the secret of the whale and the donut remains to be seen. New Horizons is not landing on Pluto. It is flying by as close as possible and will deliver images of the surface.

“We’re at the ‘man in the moon’ stage of viewing Pluto,” said John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, deputy leader of the Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team. “It’s easy to imagine you’re seeing familiar shapes in this bizarre collection of light and dark features. However, it’s too early to know what these features really are.”

After suffering a brief anomaly on the weekend, New Horizons is back on track for the historic Pluto flyby on July 14. New Horizons will be the closest to Pluto at 7:49.57 am PDT. Watch below a primer on Pluto from NASA.

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