One of the most exciting features of New Horizons, on its way for the expected Pluto’s flyby next month, is the amazing pictures the tiny spacecraft has been able to take and send back to us. Since it came out last December from its last hibernation period, New Horizons has been regularly sending up snapshots of something never observed before, not even with space telescopes – namely, features of Pluto’s system. As Alain Stern, the lead researcher at New Horizons, said in a NASA’s press release:
“Our knowledge of Pluto is quite meager … despite the march of technology on the ground, even with the Hubble Space Telescope. New Horizons will write the textbook on the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt.”
The first images have reached us in the first months of 2015, and since then have kept coming, increasing in resolution, detail and allowing a few discoveries – like polar caps on the planet’s surface.
Here I have collected here pictures that I found worth have a look at, waiting for more to come. Among them, for example, the first direct shots at Pluto’s moons, even the smallest two discovered only in 2011.
And this is LORRI, the amazing system that makes all this possible.
A difference in miles means a lot in terms of imagery, as the latest photos recently released by NASA and taken from under 50 million miles (77 million kms) away from Pluto, have shown. “These new images show us that Pluto’s differing faces are each distinct; likely hinting at what may be very complex surface geology or variations in surface composition from place to place
[They] also continue to support the hypothesis that Pluto has a polar cap whose extent varies with longitude; we’ll be able to make a definitive determination of the polar bright region’s iciness when we get compositional spectroscopy of that region in July.” (Alan Stern, May, 27 2015).
Where is New Horizons now?
According to NASA, just there – see picture – therefore in a perfect observation position for looking for new features of Pluto’s system, including new objects.
Not everything that comes is necessarily a good news though. Scientists are getting increasingly wary of discovering new moons – 4 so far, plus Charon – or even a system of rings that can harm the probe on its way to the flyby (even though so far everything still looks fine).
Pluto’s moons will also be the focus of a NASA’s a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 3, to discuss the Hubble Space Telescope’s recent observations and how these discoveries are being used in the planning for the New Horizons Pluto’s flyby on July, 14th.
For the ones of you interested in following the teleconference, it will be streamed live at: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio