NASA's New Horizons Finds Possible Clouds On Pluto

Posted: Oct 19 2016, 4:21am CDT | by , in News | Latest Science News

 

NASA's New Horizons finds possible Clouds on Pluto
Artist's impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft encountering a Kuiper Belt object, as part of an extended mission after the spacecraft’s July 2015 Pluto flyby. New Horizons is set to fly past 2014 MU69 – a KBO currently about a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto – on Jan. 1, 2019. Recent data from the Hubble Space Telescope suggests 2014 MU69 has a reddish hue, even redder than Pluto. The object is the smallest KBO to have its surface properties measured. Credits: NASA/JHU
 

Scientists from NASA's New Horizons mission claim to have identified some cloud candidates on Pluto after examining images taken during the spacecrafts July 2015 flight through the dwarf planet system.

"We're excited about the exploration ahead for New Horizons, and also about what we are still discovering from Pluto flyby data," said Alan Stern, principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Stern said Pluto's complex, layered atmosphere is hazy and appears to be mostly free of clouds, but the team has spied a handful of potential clouds in images taken with New Horizons' cameras.

"If there are clouds, it would mean the weather on Pluto is even more complex than we imagined," Stern said.

Scientists already knew from telescope observations that Pluto's icy surface below that atmosphere varied widely in brightness.

Data from the flyby not only confirms that, it also shows that the brightest areas (such as sections of Pluto's large heart-shaped region) are among the most reflective in the solar system.

"That brightness indicates surface activity," said Bonnie Buratti, a science team co-investigator from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

While Pluto shows many kinds of activity, one surface process apparently missing is landslides.

Surprisingly, though, they have been spotted on Pluto's largest moon, Charon, itself some 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) across.

The scientists also revealed that New Horizons is set to fly past 2014 MU69 -- a Kuiper Belt object currently about 1.6 billion kilometers beyond Pluto -- on January 1, 2019.

Hubble Space Telescope data suggests that the distant object is as red, if not redder, than Pluto.

The New Horizons spacecraft is currently 5.5 billion kilometers from Earth and about 540 million kilometers beyond Pluto, speeding away from the sun at about 14 kilometers every second.

The findings were discussed earlier this week at the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) and European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) in Pasadena, California.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/2" rel="author">Luigi Lugmayr</a>
Luigi Lugmayr () is the founding chief Editor of I4U News and brings over 15 years experience in the technology field to the ever evolving and exciting world of gadgets. He started I4U News back in 2000 and evolved it into vibrant technology magazine.
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