Few days ‘till the meeting
There are now only about ten days meeting between the New Horizons probe and the Pluto system. No new moon discovery, but in the last images of the dwarf planet they arouse curiosity of the big dark and very regular spots. The presence of methane ice was confirmed.
‘All clear’, all alone on the route of the New Horizons spacecraft. After seven weeks of careful research for any clouds or for any dust rings, small moons, or other potential hazards that could damage the spacecraft – for which, given the speed of more than 50,000 kilometers per hour, a single particle size of a grain of Rice could be deadly – the team of the probe NASA decided it was not necessary to divert the trajectory already scheduled to reach Pluto and its moons, from which the probe is now only 15 million kilometers.
“For most of us, not having found new moons or rings of dust was a bit surprised by the scientific point of view,” said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), scientific director of New Horizons. “Anyway, it’s good that we had to turn on the motors to stay away from potential dangers, getting by NASA on ‘go’ to the best of the planned trajectories for the encounter with Pluto.”
Stably initiated towards its goal thanks to a last, short, ignition of the engines ordered by the control center on June 28th, this projectile science will have its high noon in ten days, precisely Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at 11: 49:57 UTC.
In the last image evaluated, obtained with the camera telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), are visible Pluto and all his five known moons, but no ring, no body potentially dangerous. While scientists heave a sigh of relief, the other remains a bit of regret for not having discovered a new moon to be examined.
Patience, “New Horizons already has six beautiful objects to be analyzed in this incredible system,” said John Spencer, always at the Southwest Research Institute, group head of risk assessment of New Horizons.
Meanwhile, the system of Pluto becomes increasingly clear to the eye. In new images obtained by the combination of images in black and white with other color shots of lower resolution, the mysterious dwarf planet shows to have two quite different faces. A face presents some interesting dark spots, a diameter of about 500 kilometers, evenly distributed along the equatorial line. These commercials have attracted the curiosity of scientists mainly because of their apparent regularity in terms of size and spacing.
“We have no idea what these spots. Of course, we cannot wait to find out, “confessed Alan Stern. “Another mysterious fact is the continuing and considerable difference in color and appearance of Pluto from its darker and gray moon, Charon.”
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
The new color images, which depict a total of about half of the surface of Pluto, are very close to what you would see the eyes of a hypothetical passenger Earth aboard New Horizon. The nose of the same passenger instead begin to feel the smell of natural gas, but solely relying on technological nostrils of Ralph, the infrared spectrometer that is equipped New Horizons. Just this week, in fact, Ralph has detected the presence of methane ice on the surface of Pluto. Unlike the Earth, it is primordial methane, abiotic, coming from the cloud around the sun from which emerged the bodies of the solar system about 4.5 billion years ago.
“We knew that there had to be methane on Pluto, but this is our first real discovery,” said Will Grundy of Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. “Soon we will know if there are differences in the presence of methane ice between one side and the other of Pluto.”
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
One of the greatest satisfactions for scientists of New Horizons will see the sunrise. Or, rather, the sunlight filtering through the atmosphere of Pluto. No romance: will be used to determine the atmospheric composition of dwarf planet.
“It will be as if Pluto was placed behind a lamp from a million billion watts,” said Randy Gladstone of the Southwest Research Institute yet. To prepare for this unique, unrepeatable, against the big scene, the scientists responsible for Alice – ultraviolet spectrograph to images aboard New Horizons will make that observation – have focused their instrument to the Sun very remote. The diagram obtained will serve as yardstick, to study what elements in the atmosphere of Pluto in invoking the flow of solar photons.