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Earth Stunning PhOtOs/VIDEOs >Historic Encounter with Pluto

Welcome to Iceworld: Stunning First Hi-Def image of Pluto Reveals
> Huge 11,000 Foot Mountains Made of Water Ice and a Geologically Active Surface

  • Image of Pluto with 10 times the resolution of anything ever seen before has being unveiled by Nasa
  • It shows evidence of geological activity, water ice and mountains that formed 100 million years ago
  • Nasa also unveiled an image of Charon showing a canyon that's six miles deep, and a new view of Hydra
  • New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto yesterday after 3 billion-mile journey that took 9.5 years
  • The probe 'phoned home' last night to let mission control know it had survived its encounter unscathed
Daily Mail UK, 15 July 2015

The first ever high-resolution image of Pluto has been beamed back to Earth revealing 11,000ft (3,350 metre) mountains made of water ice.
The remarkable image, released alongside new pictures of Pluto's moons Charon and Hydra, provides evidence that geological activity is still taking place on the icy world.

Scientists were shocked to see giant mountains that likely formed no more than 100 million years ago - mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system. Nasa says they may still be in the process of building.

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The first ever high-resolution image of Pluto has been beamed back to Earth showing water ice and 11,000ft (3,350 metre) mountains. The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago - mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system. Nasa says they may still be in the process of building

Like the rest of Pluto, this region would presumably have been pummeled by space debris for billions of years and would have once been heavily cratered - unless recent activity had given the region a facelift, erasing those pockmarks.

'We now have an isolated small planet that is showing activity after 4.5 billion years,' said Alan Stern, New Horizons' principal investigator. 'It's going to send a lot of geophysicists back to the drawing board.'

'This is one of the youngest surfaces we've ever seen in the solar system,' added Jeff Moore of New Horizons' Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI)

Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by the gravitational pull of a larger planetary body. Nasa says some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.

'This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,' says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute.

The area seen here, from the bottom right part of the dwarf planet near its 'heart' is 150 miles across, and shows areas 1.5 mile across

The first images of Charon, showing an area called Mordor, the darkest area near the North pole. A swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000km) from left to right, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon's crust, likely a result of internal processes. At upper right, along the moon's curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9km) deep

A new sneak-peak image of Hydra is the first to reveal its apparent irregular shape and its size, estimated to be about 27 by 20 miles (43 by 33km). The observations also indicate Hydra's surface is probably coated with water ice. Future images will reveal more clues about the formation of this and the other moon billions of years ago


The first image to be unveiled today was one of Pluto's elusive moons, Hydra.
Very little is known about Pluto's outermost moon Hydra, but the latest image gives scientists the first glimpse of the satellites awkward shape.

This latest image was taken on Monday July 13th at 7:16PM ET from about 400,000 miles away. Its resolution is about 2 miles per pixel.
The photo reveals that Hydra is 28 miles wide by 19 miles long. It also around a third larger on one side than the other.

The surface shows differences in brightness, which suggests that Hydra's outer layer is composed manly of water ice.

The mountains are probably composed of Pluto's water-ice 'bedrock.'Although methane and nitrogen ice covers much of the surface of Pluto, these materials are not strong enough to build the mountains. Instead, a stiffer material, most likely water-ice, created the peaks.'At Pluto's temperatures, water-ice behaves more like rock,' said deputy GGI lead Bill McKinnon of Washington University, St. Louis.

Spencer said that the team has yet to find an impact crater in any of the scans, suggesting Pluto is very compared to the solar system. The team also announced that the 'heart' feature of Pluto will now be known as the Tombaugh Regio, after Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto.

The close-up image was taken about 1.5 hours before New Horizons closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 478,000 miles (770,000 km) from the surface of the planet.

The image easily resolves structures smaller than a mile across.Prior to the unveiling of Pluto's image, scientists revealed an image of Hydra, the outermost known natural satellite of Pluto. 'Surface of Hydra is surprisingly large, said Hal Weaver.

'Hydra's surface primarily composed of water ice.'Another image of Charon revealed an impressive variation in geology. 'Charon just blew our socks off when we had our new image today,' said Nasa's Cathy Olkin.'We think that the dark colouring can perhaps be a thin veneer. You can see locations in the North Pole were perhaps a crater has dug beneath it and excavated under it.'


Pluto's moon, Charon is almost half the size of the dwarf planet. It is so big that Pluto and Charon are sometimes referred to as a double dwarf planet system.
The latest image of Charon has revealed an impressive variation in geology. 'Charon just blew our socks off when we had our new image today,' said Nasa's Cathy Olkin.

A swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000km) can be seen which suggest widespread fracturing of Charon's crust, likely a result of internal processes.

Along the moon's curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9km) deep.
Mission scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters on Charon indicating a relatively young surface that has been reshaped by geologic activity.

Spectra images show an abundance of methane ice on Pluto. But there are distances in the ice across the surface. 'We just learned that in the north polar cap, methane ice is diluted in a thick, transparent slab of nitrogen ice resulting in strong absorption of infrared light,' said New Horizons co-investigator Will Grundy

This image was taken by New Horizons and sent back shortly before it started its final approach towards the dwarf planet yesterday morning. The image reveals incredible detail of craters, possible mountain ranges and icy plains on the surface of the distant world

The image shows a swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000km) from left to right, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon's crust, likely a result of internal processes.

On the upper right, along the moon's curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9km) deep.Mission scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters on Charon.

South of the moon's equator, at the bottom of this image, terrain is lit by the slanting rays of the sun, creating shadows that make it easier to distinguish topography. Even here, relatively few craters are visible, suggesting a young surface that has been reshaped by geologic activity.

The image has been compressed to reduce its file size for transmission to Earth. In high-contrast areas of the image, features as small as 3 miles (5 kilometers) across can be seen.The uncompressed version still resides in New Horizons' computer memory and is scheduled to be transmitted at a later date.Nasa will now spend the next 16 months studying the data, releasing both images and scientific observations along the way.

The image of Pluto, along with today's images of the moons Charon and Hydra, are just the beginning. New Horizons is now around one million miles away from Pluto after making its closes flyby probe flew past the dwarf planet at 7:49 a.m. EDT (11:49 GMT) yesterday morning.

This July 13 image of Pluto and Charon is presented in false colours to make differences in surface material easy to see. It was obtained by the Ralph instrument on New Horizons, using three filters to obtain colour information, which is exaggerated in the image. These are not the actual colour of Pluto and Charon, and the apparent distance between the two bodies has been reduced for this side-by-side view

New Horizons Flight Controllers celebrate after they received confirmation from the spacecraft that it had successfully completed the flyby of Pluto, in the Mission Operations Center (MOC) of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Maryland

Last night, Nasa confirmed its New Horizons probe worked flawlessly on its flight past Pluto - and the latest images are hoped to unravel the mystery of the dwarf planet's strange features.

During its closest approach, the spacecraft came to within 7,800 miles (12,500km) of Pluto's icy surface, travelling at 30,800 mph (49,600 km/h).

Alice Bowman of Nasa, who gave the mission the nickname Mom, confirmed the space agency had regained contact with the craft's signal, received at a station in Madrid at 8:55PM EDT.

'Looks like we have a good data connection. all hardware is healthy,' she said. 'I can't express this, I'm shaking. 'It worked just how we practised, we did it!'

'It's truly a mark in human history,' said John Grunsfeld, Nasa's associate administrator for science from the mission control center at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

'Pluto didn't turn out to be a relatively featureless planet with a foggy nitrogen rich atmosphere as was expected. It has turned out to be a complex and interesting world. For the very first time we know that.'

New Horizons entered silent mode yesterday, shortly before beginning its final approach to allow it to devote its power and resources to taking images.Scientists faced a tense 13-hour wait to hear if the spacecraft has survived its encounter unscathed.

An initial image released yesterday morning shows a copper-coloured world, covered with extremely dark patches and a bright, heart-shaped region - an which some have likened to the image of the cartoon character Pluto.

Craters and deep scars can be seen on the surface along with possible mountain ranges and huge icy plains. Nasa also released a false-colour image of Pluto and Charon taken on July 13 showing their geological structures in greater depth.

Scientists reacted with joy and astonishment yesterday as they were shown an image of Pluto, taken shortly before it began its approach

After nine and a half years, the New Horizons spacecraft has lifted the veil on the icy world. Pictured are the probe's key instruments

The colour images revealed that the 'heart' of Pluto consists of two remarkably different-coloured regions. In the false-colour image, the heart are made up of a western lobe shaped like an ice cream cone that appears peach color in this image.

A mid-latitude band appears in shades ranging from pale blue through red. Even within the northern polar cap, in the upper part of the image, various shades of yellow-orange indicate subtle compositional differences.
The surface of Charon is viewed using the same exaggerated colour.

The red on the dark northern polar cap of Charon is attributed to hydrocarbon and other molecules, a class of chemical compounds called tholins. The mottled colours at lower latitudes point to the diversity of terrains on Charon.

In recent days, scientists have also learned that Pluto, once considered the ninth and outermost planet of the solar system, is bigger than thought.
They believe it has a diameter of about 1,473 miles (2,370 km), it is some 50 miles (80 km) wider than previous predictions.


Without any contact from New Horizons as it flies past Pluto, it will not be possible to watch its encounter with the most distant world in our solar system in real time.

However, Nasa has developed the Eyes on the Solar System app which will allow you to watch a simulation of the historic moment as it will happen.
It allows users to see Pluto and its largest moon Charon from the spacecraft's point of view, while giving details of how many miles it has left to travel to the dwarf planet.

The app even makes it possible to see where New Horizons will be pointing four of its instruments and which parts of Pluto will be in view at any given time.

The Eyes on the Solar System app allows users to fly with the New Horizons spacecaft in a computer simulation and see the distant world and its moons much as the probe itself will be experiencing them

A tweet from the project's official account described the mission as like being 'Christmas in July' and the team had been up all night as they waited for the first contact from the spacecraft.

If New Horizons is successful, the inventory of major worlds in our solar system will be complete.

None of us alive today will see a new planet up close for the first time again.

This is, as Alan Stern, the leader of the New Horizons mission, says, 'the last picture show.'
New Horizons is thought to have spent eight minutes at its closest point to Pluto - the first time a spacecraft has visited the planet - from 12.49pm BST (7.49am EDT) yesterday.

All the way through its approach, fly past and as it draws away, New Horizons has pointed its instruments at Pluto and its five moons Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra.

The spacecraft is also making measurements about Pluto's strange atmosphere, which is thought to only exist for part of its year.

The first clear image of Pluto was seen by members of the New Horizons science team. The team faced a tense 13-hour wait before finding out if the mission was successful. 'It's truly a mark in human history,' said John Grunsfeld, Nasa's associate administrator

New Horizons has been sending back increasingly detailed images as it has got closer to Pluto. The image above, taken on 11 July from around one million miles away, shows craters on the reddish surface of Pluto, on the right, and its largest moon Charon, on the left. Light patches on Pluto are thought to be ice on the surface

Charon has emerged as a strange grey world that may be made up of considerable amounts of water ice.
In images sent back from just over one million miles away, scientists believe they have found huge chasms and craters far longer and deeper than the Grand Canyon found here on Earth.

William McKinnon, deputy lead scientist with the New Horizons' Geology and Geophysics investigation team who is based at Washington University in St Louis , said:

'This is the first clear evidence of faulting and surface disruption on Charon.
'New Horizons has transformed our view of this distant moon from a nearly featureless ball of ice to a world displaying all kinds of geologic activity.'

After passing Pluto, New Horizons will flyby one or several Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), other bodies beyond the orbit of Pluto. The mission will officially end in 2026.

Dr Lewis Ball, head of astronomy and space science at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation which runs the complex, said:

'There is so much we don't know and not just about Pluto, but also about similar worlds.
'Reaching this part of our solar system has been a space science priority for years, because it holds building blocks of our solar system that have been stored in a deep freeze for billions of years.'

Guest and New Horizons team members count down to the spacecraft's closest approach to Pluto. The moment of closest approach for the New Horizons spacecraft came around 7:49am EDT yesterday morning

It will be the first spacecraft to visit the mysterious and frozen world, which orbits nearly 3.7 billion miles (6 billion km) from the sun.

The images sent back by New Horizons so far are already revealed Pluto and its largest moon Charon to be intriguing worlds.

Large dark patches are smeared across Pluto's reddish surface while bright patches, thought to be frozen nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide on the planet's surface.

New Horizons will focus its instruments on a heart shaped patch of this suspected ice as it passes.
Strange dark 'alien' spots seen on the surface in earlier images will now not be seen again until the probe has sailed past Pluto due to the rotation of the planet.

Other instruments will study the surface temperature and geology, the clouds of ionised gas surrounding the planet, and the dust clouds that orbit it.

Scientists are hoping to get a closer look at a strange heart-shaped bright patch on Pluto's reddish surface along with craters and features that are thought to be massive cliffs.

New Horizons (artist's impression pictured) has given scientists a close up look at the surface of Pluto and its complex patterns when it flies past the planet at just 7,750 miles (12,472km)

Pictured on the left Bill Nye with New Horizon scientists Carly Howett and Alex Parker, celebrating reaching the 'ninth planet'

They are also hoping to see enormous craters and chasms in the icy surface of Pluto's largest moon Charon.

Speaking to Mail Online, Professor Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the New Horizons' mission, said the tense wait during the close encounter was the culmination of 15 years of work.
He said:

'There is a small chance New Horizons will be lost during a debris strike.'
'Experts say that the chance this will happen will 1 in 10,000 or less. But until we hear back from it we won't know. We are flying into the unknown.
'The adrenaline is intense at the moment. [I'm] literally sleeping four hours a night and feeling great.

'I mean, just look at the images. It's unlike anything. This is the most science fiction-looking world you'll ever see.'

Among the last batch of data sent back by New Horizons before it entered its silent flight mode was a 600 pixel wide full frame image of Pluto.
It will be the most detailed picture of the dwarf planet until scientists hear from the spacecraft again shortly before 1am GMT (2am BST).

However, at that point the first contact from the spacecraft will be diagnostic data to report on the status of the probe. Only then will they know if the mission has been successful.
The first images are not expected to be received until late on Wednesday.

It takes almost four hours for messages from New Horizons to travel the 2.9 billion miles back to Earth.
The first messages and images are expected to be picked up by the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex in Australia, giving the world its first glimpse of this alien world.

Principal Investigator for New Horizons mission Alan Stern (left) and Co-Investigator Will Grundy (right) hold up an enlarged, out-dated U.S. postage stamp with the words 'Pluto not yet explored', during the celebration of the spacecraft New Horizons flyby of Pluto


New Horizons came to within 7,800 miles (12,500 km) from Pluto at 7:49 a.m. EDT/1149 GMT today.
It has become the first probe to visit distant Pluto, capping a reconnaissance of the solar system that began more than 50 years ago.

New Horizons will now remain radio silent for much of the day so that it can concentrate on gathering data.

Here is an overview of what will happen today:

7.49am EDT: New Horizons made it closes approach at 7,800 miles (12,500 km)

8:04am: The probe made its closest approach to Charon at 17,960 miles (28,900 km)

8:51am: New Horizons passed through Pluto's shadow, allowing it to probe the dwarf planet's atmosphere

10.18am: It passed through Charon's shadow, allowing it to search for an atmosphere

8.53 pm: Mission team on Earth received a preprogrammed 'phone home' signal, which indicated the spacecraft survived
After passing Pluto, New Horizons will flyby one or several Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs), other bodies beyond the orbit of Pluto. The mission will officially end in 2026.

Images taken by New Horizons just over one million miles away on 11 July, (shown above) revealed cliffs and impact craters on the surface of Pluto. Scientists hope to get a closer look at these during the close encounter

The science team at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland reacted with delight as features have emerged in the images being sent back by New Horizons. They have been told to relish the once in a lifetime mission

Pictures of Pluto's largest moon Charon have also allowed scientists to see enormous chasms and craters on the surface. A 200 mile wide dark region around the north pole has proved to be particularly baffling

This map of Pluto's surface shows some of the features scientists are most intersted in, includuing a long dark patch they have nicknamed 'The Whale' around the equator and dark spots on the far right of the image above


As New Horizons begins to send back the first images of the Pluto system, there is a growing, and rather dark, list of names for the features scientists expect to see in them.

Named after the Roman god of the underworld itself, the mysterious reddish coloured planet could have a series of craters, canyons, plains and chasms named after dark gods and demons from different cultures.

Among those proposed are Ammit, the Eyptian goddess who devoured the souls of the sinful; Supay, the Inca's ruler of the underworld and Erlik, the underworld god in Mongolian mythology.

A number of fictional monsters, such as the Balrog from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Morgoth from the author's novel The Silmarillion have also been suggested.

Although none of the names have been officially adopted, they have been put forward as part of a proposal submitted to the International Astronomical Union by scientists at the SETI Institute as part of a public campaign called Our Pluto.

The names could transform the alien looking landscape of Pluto into a world filled with features that have emerged from the nightmares and deepest terrors of mankind.

Among the proposed list of names names is Mephistopheles, the demon in German folklore who bartains for Faust’s soul in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus.

Peklenc, the god of the underworld in Slavic mythology and Xargi, the ruler of the underworld from Siberian mythology, are also among those put forward.

Dr Jane Greaves, an astrophysicist at St Andrews University who has studied the atmosphere of Pluto, explained the theme may have been inspired by Pluto's distance from the sun.
She said:

'The names in astronomical systems usually form a family, so here the theme is the Underworld, I guess because of the darkness out at Pluto's orbit. Pluto's moon Nix is from a creation goddess though, so more like dawn than darkness.

Pluto is named after the Roman god of the underworld (illustrated) enthroned along side the goddess Persephone, but now a list of unofficial names for new features appearing in the high resolution images of the dwarf planet have been put forward featuring other underworld gods from other cultures and mythological creatures such as Mephistopheles (illustrated top)

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