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.  New Horizons swept past Pluto in July. It became 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. He is the New Horizons' principal scientist from Southwest Research Institute. It is in Boulder, Colorado.
 
In one picture, dark ancient craters border much younger icy plains. Dark ridges also are visible. Some scientists speculate they 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." That is because of 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. They could be 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. It 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. That was on July 14. Its journey began at 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. It is in Laurel, Maryland. The physics lab also designed and built it.
 
New Horizons' next target is awaiting formal approval by NASA. The plan is for it to reach a much smaller object that orbits 1 billion miles beyond Pluto. It, too, lies in the so-called Kuiper Belt. That is 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 (41)
  • carolinev-2-bar
    9/17/2015 - 06:16 p.m.

    It took so long to get more pictures from pluto because this dwarf planet is about 3 billion miles away and so it takes a long time to retrieve the photos.

  • maxwellc-3-bar
    9/17/2015 - 09:18 p.m.

    It took so long to get more photos from Pluto because of the size and scale of the data pouring in from the spaceship. As the writer said, "So much data was collected during the Pluto flyby that it will take until next fall to retrieve it all on Earth. " This shows the importance of the intensive readings and scanning the spaceship did on its flyby. It also took an extensive time period because of the matter, vacuum, and space the signals and photos are coming from. They are unbelievably fast, especially considering the fact that it took almost "9 1/2 years" to fly to. Other problems that may have prevented the signals from coming instantly is from the cosmic radiation and forces that interfere with signals like that of the spaceship. I think this spaceship did an excellent job if not awe-inspiring. I believe this mission was a complete success and continue to think more of these operations should be made.

  • John0724-YYCA
    9/17/2015 - 09:20 p.m.

    I think that it is very cool that the New Horizon is the first space craft to visit a distant dwarf planet and the New Horizon is bringing in new pictures of Pluto and in the pictures there are a lot of craters on Pluto. Geologists say that there could have been atmospheric change on that planet but I don't hope that happens to us or we will be getting hit by comets.

  • Jason0421-YYCA
    9/17/2015 - 09:59 p.m.

    I think that it is amazing for New Horizon to have been able to make it past Pluto and achieve a lot of pictures about Pluto. I think that it is great to know that scientists are figuring out Pluto. I believe that understanding Pluto could possibly lead to something very important to humankind.

  • ethang-1-bar
    9/17/2015 - 10:06 p.m.

    It took so long to get photos from Pluto because it's so far away that the radio waves take a while to reach earth from a great distance in such little time

    • usherc-rei
      9/21/2015 - 03:50 p.m.

      I do agree that is very true

  • gregorys-6-bar
    9/17/2015 - 10:52 p.m.

    It takes so long to get more photos from Pluto because it take half a year to get back to Pluto. In my opinion I think that it's cool how scientists are going way beyond we thought was possible.

  • alexandrias-2-bar
    9/17/2015 - 11:32 p.m.

    The most likely reason that it took so long for us to receive photos from pluto was most likely because the flight was 2 billion miles and 9 1/2 years. And because we collected so much information was gathered that we are going to have to wait until fall for more pictures. I was surprised by this article because it stated that we haven't yet sent a spacecraft to pluto and i thought we had done it already.

  • maxwellt-2-bar
    9/18/2015 - 12:21 a.m.

    I think it is taking so long to get the Pluto pictures because Pluto, according to the article, is 9.5 years away from earth and 3 billion miles away, meaning the spacecraft was going really fast, so any delay of a minute or so would amount to arrival times somewhere around 10 million miles apart. I liked this article because it asked me a question that I had never considered before and took some thought.

  • oliviam-6-bar
    9/18/2015 - 01:10 a.m.

    It took such a long time to get more pictures of Pluto because until recently, there had never been a spacecraft expedition to Pluto.

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