Pluto pictures are pouring in This July 14, 2015, photo provided by NASA shows a synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. The new close-up images of Pluto reveal an even more diverse landscape than scientists imagined before New Horizons swept past Pluto in July. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute via AP)
Pluto pictures are pouring in
Lexile

The spigot has opened again, and Pluto pictures are pouring in once more from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.
 
These newest snapshots reveal an even more diverse landscape than scientists imagined before New Horizons swept past Pluto in July, becoming the first spacecraft to ever visit the distant dwarf planet.
 
"If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top - but that's what is actually there," said Alan Stern, New Horizons' principal scientist from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
 
In one picture, dark ancient craters border much younger icy plains. Dark ridges are also visible; that some scientists speculate might be dunes.
 
One outer solar-system geologist, William McKinnon of Washington University in St. Louis, said if the ridges are, in fact, dunes, that would be "completely wild" given Pluto's thin atmosphere.
 
"Either Pluto had a thicker atmosphere in the past, or some process we haven't figured out is at work. It's a head-scratcher," McKinnon said in a written statement.
 
The jumble of mountains, on the other hand, may be huge blocks of ice floating in a softer, vast deposit of frozen nitrogen.
 
After several weeks of collecting engineering data from New Horizons, scientists started getting fresh Pluto pictures. The latest images were released Sept. 10.
 
Besides geologic features, the images show that the atmospheric haze surrounding Pluto has multiple layers. What's more, the haze creates a twilight effect that enables New Horizons to study places on the night side that scientists never expected to see.
 
It has been more than two months since New Horizons' close encounter with Pluto on July 14, following a journey from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The flight has spanned 3 billion miles and 9 1/2 years. As of Sept. 11, the spacecraft was 44 million miles past Pluto.
 
So much data was collected during the Pluto flyby that it will take until next fall to retrieve it all on Earth. The spacecraft is operated from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, which also designed and built it.
 
New Horizons' next target, pending formal approval by NASA, will be a much smaller object that orbits 1 billion miles beyond Pluto. It, too, lies in the so-called Kuiper Belt, a frigid twilight zone on the outskirts of our solar system. Following a set of maneuvers, New Horizons would reach PT1 - short for Potential Target 1 - in 2019.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why did it take so long to get more photos from Pluto?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (14)
  • tylers-day
    9/18/2015 - 08:22 a.m.

    This is very interesting. The fact that NASA has found dunes on Pluto could lead to some very interesting discoveries. Also if NASA approves New Horizon's new mission, it could be a huge leap in the scientific community. They could potentially find something that proves there is us or was other life in the universe. If NASA finds something along those lines it would alter the course of history dramatically.

  • bohdan,patrick-cas
    9/21/2015 - 09:17 a.m.

    It takes so long to get more photos from Pluto because the distance that Pluto is from us is so far away that it takes time for the photos to get to us. I think its very interesting that we can take photos from Pluto.

  • bauer,christopher-cas
    9/21/2015 - 09:27 a.m.

    The Pluto pictures are very interesting, as they give us insight of what the dwarf planet is like. Although, it does take time to receive these pictures due to the clog of data from the satellite, meaning it will take awhile before we can obtain the pictures.

  • charleyh-pla
    9/22/2015 - 10:21 a.m.

    This story about Pluto is very interesting to me, because growing up Pluto was considered a planet, and now it sadly isn't. However, I also find it interesting how the atmosphere that Pluto has could be changing, just like Earth's atmosphere is. I'm really intrigued by how the scientists can find out so much from pictures that a satellite took while moving past Pluto. I didn't think it would take so long (until next fall) to retrieve all the data and pictures New Horizons took.
    I would say the news element to this story is human interest due to many people my age always saying how they grew up with Pluto being a planet, and they will always believe Pluto is a planet. In this way we sort of sympathize with the planet. Another way it is human interest is that anything from outer space interests us here on Earth because we are a curious people. We like to know if there is some change in what NASA is doing and things like that.

  • jeremiahz-pla
    9/22/2015 - 10:42 a.m.

    Ever since I was a kid, Iv'e always been interested in other planet and the solar system overall. However, one planet, Pluto, has always caught my attention due to it's size and mysterious aura about it. The spacecraft, New Horizons, has uncovered these childhood mysteries showing that Pluto has ancient deep craters, more recent icy plains, and dune like ridges. Scientists declare this is an abnormal occurrence due to Pluto's thin atmosphere, but they speculate that Pluto may have had a thinker atmosphere in the past. After Pluto, New Horizon's next target is the Kuiper Belt, located 1 billion miles away from Pluto and is expected to reach it by 2019.
    This event's news element would be considered variety because this event doesn't occur often and is a huge advancement in the scientific field.
    This is Jeremiah signing off. Have a great day!

  • cundiff,zachary-cas
    9/22/2015 - 01:10 p.m.

    1. It takes a long time to get pictures from Pluto because it is far way and data clog from the satellites slows down the pictures from getting back to us.
    2. I found this article interesting because it is cool to know that we are still trying to see what Pluto is doing even though it is no longer a planet.

  • twahir,yasmeen-cas
    9/22/2015 - 11:16 p.m.

    CT:It took so long to get more photos from Pluto because it took several weeks to collect the engineering data from New Horizons. Also Pluto is very far away from Earth.

    I think it is amazing that NASA is making these discoveries about Pluto. It would be amazing to learn more information about Pluto and beyond it.

  • johnt-pla
    9/22/2015 - 11:28 p.m.

    I like how pluto is so different than what we had thought, it's really amazing to think what other types of things are out there in space right now.

  • payack,brian-cas
    9/24/2015 - 09:00 a.m.

    1. I think it too long to get to Pluto because it only took 9 1/2 years to get there. Also the advanced technology we needed for it to get there.

    2. I found this very interesting because all the planets from Jupiter all the way to Neptune are gas and then there's Pluto, rock again.

  • bullis,alyssa-cas
    9/24/2015 - 09:03 a.m.

    1. It took so long for pictures of Pluto to make it to Earth because Pluto is 9 1/2 years away from Earth.
    2. I think that if we can decipher the pictures better Pluto might be a place for us to live in the future and start new.

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