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.
“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck,” jokes Alan Stern, principal investigator for the New Horizons mission. In his view, the same applies to planets.
Hubble images reveal chaotic rotation of the dwarf planet’s satellites. “If you lived on Nix or Hydra, you would not know if the sun is coming up tomorrow.”