A planet or not, Pluto has certainly earned its spot center stage during the past couple of months. Ever since NASA‘s New Horizons has started streaming some of the most amazing and sharp images of the dwarf planet, people have been extremely interested in enriching their knowledge about space.
Provided that the funding isn’t cut any time soon, the piano-sized spacecraft will keep on offering its services for many years to come, hurtling into new and uncharted areas of our solar system.
The tools at the board of New Horizons have been very efficient in observing the plutonian system, including dwarf planets and five natural satellites. With their help, Pluto’s origins have become less of a mystery, offering at the same time extraordinary insight on how the solar system functions as a unit.
A planet that was previously pictured only in artists’ representations finally started existing in real – and oh, so incredible – pictures sent back by the spacecraft. During its passing by Pluto, New Horizons managed to capture over 1000 images; one photo has already been uploaded on NASA’s official website.
Other pictures, however, will take a lot longer to reach ground control; some weeks – or months – might pass before we get to lay eyes on them because of their immense size and the fact the spacecraft is so far away. Some of the best shots have been compressed by New Horizons before they embarked on a 4.5-hour trip to Earth.
In spite of their slight blurriness, the pictures are the clearest and sharpest pictures we’ve ever seen of Pluto, as no other spacecraft sent higher quality images. The spacecraft hasn’t shot only the planet, but also its moon, Hydra, a potato-shaped satellite of just 27 miles long. Its existence was discovered and confirmed back in 2005.
New Horizons also delivered some amazing images of Pluto’s larger moon, Charon; in spite of the smooth-looking surface present on its southern hemisphere, scientists believe that some internal geographical process is still active and creating new surfaces.
Ground control is expecting to keep receiving data from the probe over the next 16 months, all reporting back on its encounter with Pluto. It will be absolutely fascinating to see New Horizon’s journey documented as it flies out into the uncharted territories of the Kuiper Belt.
Image Source: Mashable