"Binzel suspects that Pluto’s “heart,” particularly its left ventricle region, called Sputnik Planitia, was created by an impact with another object in the Kuiper belt, an asteroid belt near the edge of the solar system. That impact gouged out a piece of the surface of Pluto, making the crust very thin at the point of impact. Underground water, kept warm by Pluto’s radioactivity, then flooded this area of thin crust like water in a blister. This formed the extra mass that caused Pluto to reorient itself so the impact zone faced away from Charon." [more inside]
Sure, you marveled at the first close up photos of Pluto that the New Horizons spacecraft captured as it soared past the planet. But that was only about 5% of the total photo set. Starting now, the spacecraft will be sending home everything. [more inside]
50 years to day after Mariner IV gave humanity its first closeup glimpse of another planet, the New Horizons spacecraft brings us our first close up image of Pluto. [more inside]
Raw images of Pluto document our progress to the dwarf planet! We are about 15 days away from the close encounter with Pluto. Raw images are being uploaded here, every day. Other information and goodies can be found here.
In about a month, on July 14th at roughly 7:50am EST,the New Horizons spacecraft will make humanity's closest approach to Pluto. This will produce the best images we've ever seen of the dwarf planet, its odd system and bizarre collection of moons. In anticipation of this historic event, Emily Lakdawalla of Planetary.org has written a blog post describing exactly what and when to expect photos and other science data from the encounter. [more inside]
Pluto and its moons just got a whole lot stranger A new analysis of data collected by the Hubble Space Telescope suggests that Pluto's four smallest known moons have been thrown into chaos because of Pluto's relationship with its largest moon Charon. They're a bit codependent.
"On July 14, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly past Pluto, offering the first close-up look at that small, distant world and its largest moon, Charon. These denizens of the outer solar system will be transformed from poorly seen, hazy bodies to tangible worlds with distinct features." Who gets to name those features? You do. Via Bad Astronomy.
We know space is big, but trying to understand how big is tricky. Say you stare up at the sky and identify stars and constellations in a virtual planetarium, you can't quite fathom how far away all those stars are (previously, twice). Even if you could change your point of view and zoom around in space to really see 100,000 nearby stars (autoplaying ambient music, and there are actually 119,617 stars mapped in 3D space), it's still difficult to get a sense of scale. There's this static image of various items mapped on a log scale from XKCD (previously), and an interactive horizontal journey down from the sun to the heliosphere with OMG Space (previously). You can get a bit more dynamic with this interactive Scale of the Universe webpage (also available in with some variants, if you want the sequel [ previously, twice], the swirly, gravity-optional version that takes some time to load, and the wrong version [previously]), but that's just for the scale of objects, not of space itself. If you want to get spaced out, imagine if If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel, and travel from there (previously). This past March, BBC Future put out a really big infographic, which also takes a moment to load, but then you can see all sorts of things, from the surface of Earth out to the edge of our solar system.
If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel is a tediously accurate model of the Solar System that Josh Worth made to explain to his daughter just how difficult it is to go on holiday to Mars.
Pluto may have been downsized in 2006, but it's still living large, moon wise: A fourth moon has been discovered orbiting the dwarf planet.
Space volcano. The New Horizons space probe, en route to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, captures an amazing image of the Tvashtar volcano on Jupiter's moon Io.
The New Horizons spacecraft will be the first man-made object to visit our controversial sibling planet. An Atlas V will be used to launch the craft to the fastest speed that man has ever hurled an object to the heavens. Due to this and the small size of Pluto, the probe will only be capable of one flyby. Today is the first day in the launch window that the rocket is hoped to be launched.
Most of us were expecting that astronomers would discover a tenth planet and name it Persephone. A mostly harmless author preferred Rupert. One clique of New Age doomsayers claims that it is "Nibiru," or "Planet X,", which will come in 2003 to wreak havoc and usher in a new era under (I kid you not) our new alien overlords. Well, hang it all. Planet #9.5 has been discovered, and they called it "Quaoar." And I think Pluto is pissed.
Will the Pluto mission once again get cancelled? I mean, now that Pluto isn't a planet anymore; apparently, it's been downgraded to "big ball of ice." After all those years of service, of faithful rotation, that steadfast revolve, how can they just kick a planet out like that?! It's a travesty, I tell you -- a travesty!