I don’t typically wake up early in the morning, but when I do, it’s because … there was a historic flyby of Pluto! I woke up to this beauty after NASA posted the clearest picture it has of the dwarf planet so far.
It’s been an exciting morning as the New Horizons spacecraft made it closest approach to Pluto, completing a three-billion-mile plus journey to the outer reaches of our solar system. Now we wait until later this evening before we know how well New Horizons performed. Right now, it’s taking tons of scientific readings and images of the icy world.
In the meantime, we’ve compiled some social media reaction to New Horizons’ flyby of the Pluto system. Also, there’s some new information we learned so far. (They think it SNOWS on Pluto! How cool?!) Check out our Storify post.
How many of you are anxious about tomorrow? I feel like a kid waiting for the first day of school to begin. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight.
Tuesday morning, the New Horizons spacecraft will make its closest – and first ever! – approach to Pluto, an icy world that’s almost five billion miles away from Earth. We’ve been seeing picture after picture of the dwarf planet, each image becoming clearer than the last.
This is some groundbreaking stuff. Above, we see Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. That’s quite the difference from the photo we posted only days ago.
Below, we see more of Pluto’s features, including what could be cliffs and an impact crater.
We’ve also learned that the dwarf planet is larger than we expected it to be. At 1,473 miles in diameter, “Pluto is larger than all other known solar system objects beyond the orbit of Neptune,” according to a NASA release.
The New Horizons spacecraft will zip by Pluto at an incredible 30,800 miles per hour tomorrow. But we won’t hear from the unmanned spacecraft until much later. Check out this Pluto in a minute feature and find out why:
Don’t forget to watch the Science Channel and NASA TV for updates throughout the day. We’ll also be tweeting, so feel free to follow. And share! :)
In four days, a spacecraft that has journeyed over three BILLION miles into the coldest reaches of our solar system will finally meet its maker.
All eyes will be on NASA’s New Horizons mission Tuesday, July 14, as the craft makes its closest approach to the enigmatic and highly beloved Pluto. (We’ll get a chance to see it all live on NASA TV and the Science Channel. Yah!) This will be the first time we’ll actually see up-close images of the dwarf planet, which has been shrouded in mystery since its discovery in 1930. The best photos we have so far are blurry at best. The picture above was taken Wednesday and it’s the most detailed image we have of the icy world.
“The science team is just drooling over these pictures. If you look at the new pictures now, it’s already five to six times better resolution than what we’ve been able to get before,” New Horizons scientist Hal Weaver told the Guardian.
The mission suffered a bit of a scare last week after an “anomaly” put the spacecraft into safe mode. Apparently the main computer overloaded after it received too many commands. Some science was lost, but only a fraction of all the data collected.
It was minor speed bump, says NASA:
There’s no risk that this kind of anomaly could happen again before flyby, as no similar operations are planned for the remainder of the Pluto encounter.
That’s good to know. It’s been nine years since NASA launched New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft ever to leave Earth. Can you even remember what you were doing in 2006? That’s the year Blu-Ray was released in the U.S., the Nintendo Wii made its debut, and ironically, Pluto was demoted from the “planet” to “dwarf planet” status.
Nine years is a long time to wait. But finally, the time has come. New Horizons has already begun making its flyby observations and with each passing day, we get a chance to know more than we did yesterday. What type of atmosphere does Pluto have? What’s on the surface? What’s up with the mysterious bright spot near the north pole? What’s its temperature? These are just a few of the many questions scientists hope to have solved. But most likely, more questions will be raised than answered. (That’s OK! It’s the best kind of science.)
After reaching its closest point to Pluto Tuesday morning, the spacecraft will gather data about the dwarf planet and its five known moons. Below is Charon, the largest of Pluto’s satellites.
You must check out this teaser for National Geographic’s documentary, “Mission Pluto.” It got me pretty pumped up for Tuesday.
Are we too late for the party?
NASA’s Curiosity rover celebrated its first Martian birthday last week, 686.98 days after successfully landing on Mars. (Remember: one Martian year = 686.98 Earth days) The Mini Cooper-sized rover, whose descent on Mars brought huge fanfare due to the infamous “7 minutes of terror,” has captured amazing photos during its journey. But Curiosity isn’t the only mission with its eyes set on the red planet. Here’s 10 of our favorite photos taken through the lens of various missions investigating the spooky and oftentimes deadly planet.
10 – Rocknest
9 – An eye on its tracks
Curiosity snaps a picture of marks made by its own wheels as the rover heads toward Mount Sharp. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech
8 – (Dry) ice melt
7 – ‘Let me take a selfie’
6 – Crystals found
5 – The most active dunes
4 – A dust devil
3 – Metallic rocks?
2 – Where’d that rock come from?
1 – Earth from Mars
How well do we know our own backyard? A little better today.
This afternoon, Brazilian astronomers announced the discovery of a double ringed asteroid in the far reaches of our Solar System. While the news wasn’t officially released until today, Twitter was abuzz last evening with talk about what the major discovery could be. Unfortunately, the cat left the bag early. (Some people need to learn the definition of embargo!)
Anyway, back to the news: The asteroid, dubbed Chariklo, is the smallest object in our Solar System known to have rings.
According to lead scientist Felipe Braga-Ribas:
We weren’t looking for a ring and didn’t think small bodies like Chariklo had them at all, so the discovery — and the amazing amount of detail we saw in the system — came as a complete surprise!
Braga-Ribas also thinks a small moon could be orbiting the asteroid.
If that wasn’t cool enough for you, another big announcement relating to the outer Solar System was released today.
A dwarf-planet, called 2012 VP113, was found far beyond Pluto. In an interview with NewScientist, Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, DC, said,
We thought Pluto was unique for over 70 years, but we now know that it shares its orbit with thousands of other objects … Sedna was unique for about 10 years but it’s now clear that Sedna and 2012 VP113 are just the tip of the iceberg.
The tip of the iceberg, indeed. Many say that this recent finding points to a massive planet beyond 2012 VP113. Why? The dwarf planet’s orbit tells scientists that something is going on.
While the latest news is fascinating, it also proves just how little we really know about our own Solar System. Here’s to many more discoveries ahead.
We have another Martian oddity on our hands.
In this late 2013 image of the red planet, a field of dunes appear in V-shaped formation. Located on a large crater in an old Martian valley, the dunes number in the dozens.
“For dune fields, the spacing of individual dunes is a function of sand supply, wind speed, and topography,” according to NASA.
The formations have been likened to migratory bird formations and even a popular sci-fi show.
— William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) February 19, 2014
The Kepler planet-hunting mission continues to rake in results.
Over 700 new planets have been discovered, Kepler researchers announced yesterday. A large majority of the planets – about 95 percent – are the size of Neptune, which is four times larger than Earth.
Kepler has been searching for planets outside of our Solar System for several years now. This discovery brings the total number of confirmed exoplanets to 1,700. That’s amazing! And, there are still over 3,000 potential planets that have not yet been confirmed.