The Pluto flyby was arguably one of 2015’s top scientific achievements, maybe even one of the most memorable moments in the last decade. We now know what our ex-ninth planet looks like, and it’s spectacular. Pluto turned out to have some surprising features like glaciers, nitrogen lakes, ice volcanoes, and the list is growing. The New Horizons mission to Pluto has surpassed everyone’s expectations, and the good news is, the team has no plans of stopping yet. This summer, they’re hoping to win an extended mission to explore another strange new world.
New Horizons has been sending back some incredible information about Pluto, but the Dwarf planet isn’t the only thing it’s been studying. NASA recently noted that the spacecraft’s vantage point is ideal for studying Solar Wind, and it’s been doing just that.
New Horizons returned some amazingly detailed shots and data of Pluto over the course of its mission—but just what did it have to fly through to get there? So, so much.
When I was growing up, there were nine planets in the solar system: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. By 1989, all of those planets had been explored … except Pluto. Though it’s no longer classified as a planet by some folks, Pluto is one of the largest worlds in the outer solar system, and it remained a mystery until this week.
At a NASA briefing this afternoon, Alan Stern, New Horizon’s principal investigator, answered questions from the media and the public on today’s historic flyby, discussing the team’s latest impressions of Pluto’s surface, how the data is being transmitted back to Earth, and much, much more!
We’re so close to Pluto, we’re starting to see geologic features on the dwarf planet’s surface. In its latest portrait from the New Horizons spacecraft, scientists are able to pick out distant surface formations, including a polygonal band of terrain stretching east-northeast across the planet, and a dark band near the south pole that’s now being called ‘the whale.’
The New Horizons spacecraft is rapidly soaring closer to Pluto for our first flyby of the distant almost-planet. But something went wrong on Saturday afternoon, knocking the probe out of communication for over an hour. Now we’re back in touch and trying to figure out what happened.