The latest best image of Pluto and Charon
June 28, 2015 7:08 AM   Subscribe

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.
posted by amy27 (46 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Disappointingly no Fungi From Yuggoth spotted yet
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:28 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Space geologist Emily Lackdawalla has updated her post at (linked on the blue a couple of weeks ago) about what kind of images to expect and when and where to expect them.
posted by mediareport at 7:43 AM on June 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

For pure eye candy, there's also National Space Society's new short New Horizons, directed by Erik Wernquist who made "Wanderers" (previously).
posted by effbot at 7:46 AM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Let's celebrate with some space tortillas!!
posted by Fizz at 7:47 AM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

In sadder news I tuned into the SpaceX live feed this morning just in time to see the launch vehicle fail. Ouch.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:59 AM on June 28, 2015

I've been keeping eye on this mission periodically since launch. What's amazing is that they're 15 days away and these are still the best images they can get. It speaks to how small Pluto is and how even the Hubble can't get any sort of clear images of the planet. (Pluto's still a planet to me, dammit.)
posted by azpenguin at 8:16 AM on June 28, 2015

What's amazing is that they're 15 days away and these are still the best images they can get.

I thought the same thing, but my amazement was as how fast that probe must be moving to be only 15 days out.
posted by Mooski at 8:19 AM on June 28, 2015

It's going about 14 miles a second.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:42 AM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

New Horizons is approaching Pluto at 1.2 million kilometers per day. At that speed, you could get from the Earth to the Moon in about eight hours (good luck stopping, though).
posted by ddbeck at 8:44 AM on June 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's going that fast just to get from Earth to Pluto in 9 years. They could have sent it at a slower speed, one that would have enabled orbital insertion, but that would have taken about 18-20 years.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:23 AM on June 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

The most incredible thing about it to me is that, at that distance and speed, it's going to pass within 6200 miles of Pluto. That's less than the diameter of Earth. What.
posted by something something at 11:03 AM on June 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

I just hope we don't awaken some tremendous evil exhiled there long ago.
posted by humanfont at 1:29 PM on June 28, 2015

There's plenty of evil that has been exiled here to planet Earth, so we're good on that front.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:40 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just a reminder that we'll probably have to wait quite a while for the full treasure trove of hi-res color imagery from the flyby:
  • New Horizons has two cameras. The Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) has a field of view of 0.29 degrees and a pixel scale of 4.94 microradians and takes black-and-white ("panchromatic") images. The Ralph Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) has a field of view 5.7 degrees wide and a pixel scale of 19.77 microradians and takes both panchromatic and color images. It has panchromatic, near-IR, red, blue, and methane filters, but no green filter.
  • Through July 12, New Horizons will take regular LORRI photos of Pluto, Charon, Nix, and Hydra, which will mostly be returned soon after acquisition because they are used for optical navigation.
  • There are few data downlinks near closest approach, so we will not receive many images in real time. But the ones we get will be great.
  • The mission has promised to release LORRI images (higher-resolution, black-and-white) in near-real-time, but not MVIC (lower-resolution, color) images.
  • Only 1% of the science data from the flyby will be returned to Earth during the period around closest approach, including images that the mission has selected for their high science value as well as high public interest. They will be releasing captioned and processed versions as fast as their small team can manage.
  • The rest of the image data will be downlinked beginning in September, about 2 months after encounter. It will take 10 weeks to download the full data set.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:55 PM on June 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yep, echoing Hairy Lobster, looks like we're back to the '80s-'90s for the bit rates achieved:
During the Jupiter flyby in February 2007, New Horizons sent data home at about 38 kilobits per second (kbps), which is slightly slower than the transmission speed for most computer modems. The average downlink rate after New Horizons passes Pluto (and sends the bulk of its encounter data back to Earth) is approximately 2,000 bits per second, a rate the spacecraft achieves by downlinking with both of its transmitters through NASA's largest antennas. Even then, it will take until late 2016 to bring down all the encounter data stored on the spacecraft's recorders.
posted by Beware of the leopard at 9:21 AM on June 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

The New Horizon team just put out some interesting processed photos. Getting to the point where we can see features as more than just vague blobs.
posted by tavella at 2:27 PM on July 2, 2015

"But what catches the eye are four dark spots on the 2,300km-wide dwarf planet. Each spot is about 500km across. Quite why they should be so similar in size and spacing is not clear."

I have a very bad feeling about this.
posted by effbot at 2:42 PM on July 2, 2015

Missile ports! More seriously... I believe they are on the equator, so I wonder if they could be craters from a disintegrating moonlet.
posted by tavella at 2:46 PM on July 2, 2015

So weird. it can't be anything made by intelligent creatures, but...what if?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:29 PM on July 3, 2015

Let's celebrate with some space tortillas!!

As long as there's no space for peas in 'em.
posted by fairmettle at 2:22 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Uh-oh. Problems with New Horizons ten days out from Pluto mean we're going to at least lose some small amount of science data on the approach:

New Horizons enters safe mode 10 days before Pluto flyby

Welp. New Horizons decided to put on a little 4th of July drama for the mission's fans. It's currently in safe mode, and it will likely be a day or two before it recovers and returns to science, but it remains on course for the July 14 flyby. Here's the mission update in its entirety.
New Horizons Team Responds to Spacecraft Anomaly

The New Horizons spacecraft experienced an anomaly the afternoon of July 4 that led to a loss of communication with Earth. Communication has since been reestablished and the spacecraft is healthy.

The mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Maryland, lost contact with the unmanned spacecraft -- now 10 days from arrival at Pluto -- at 1:54 p.m. EDT, and regained communications with New Horizons at 3:15 p.m. EDT, through NASA’s Deep Space Network. 

During that time the autonomous autopilot on board the spacecraft recognized a problem and – as it’s programmed to do in such a situation - switched from the main to the backup computer. The autopilot placed the spacecraft in “safe mode,” and commanded the backup computer to reinitiate communication with Earth. New Horizons then began to transmit telemetry to help engineers diagnose the problem.  

A New Horizons Anomaly Review Board (ARB) was convened at 4 p.m. EDT to gather information on the problem and initiate a recovery plan. The team is now working to return New Horizons to its original flight plan. Due to the 9-hour, round trip communication delay that results from operating a spacecraft almost 3 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) from Earth, full recovery is expected to take from one to several days; New Horizons will be temporarily unable to collect science data during that time.

Status updates will be issued as new information is available.
Okay. This is scary. It's not what the team wanted to be dealing with right now. However, the spacecraft is healthy.

posted by mediareport at 8:16 AM on July 5, 2015

You got only 16 jobs to do NH, pull it together!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:12 PM on July 5, 2015

It's fixed and fine, was just a weird timing error in the software during a special situation, which isn't expected to occur again before the flyby.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:21 PM on July 5, 2015

Here's NASA's statement:

The underlying cause of the incident was a hard-to-detect timing flaw in the spacecraft command sequence that occurred during an operation to prepare for the close flyby. No similar operations are planned for the remainder of the Pluto encounter.

They're saying the lost observational data is minimal.
posted by mediareport at 8:23 PM on July 5, 2015

Here's a thought on the vastness of the universe.

If NH discovered that life existed on Pluto, it would be about 20-25 years before another probe could be launched, travel and orbit the planet. And that's an optimistic time frame.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:02 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

A first animated gif of Pluto and Charon in color is up.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:06 AM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lots more detail about the anomaly and what was lost in Lackdawalla's report of NASA's press conference earlier today.
posted by mediareport at 5:19 PM on July 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Kudos for awesome spacecraft design!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:22 PM on July 6, 2015

The fact that they could actually troubleshoot something near Pluto is just amazing. Like, giggle-worthy amazing.
posted by mediareport at 4:47 AM on July 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

IO9: What to Expect in the Leadup to New Horizons' Historic Flyby of Pluto

(includes happy ending to xkcd 695 in the comments)
posted by effbot at 3:30 PM on July 7, 2015

Can't wait for the latest batch of images to come in. This is getting really exciting!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:37 PM on July 7, 2015

New long form article that will update images as they come along.
posted by Admira at 1:31 AM on July 9, 2015

Thanks, Admira; that's a good one. Loved this, about the person who first discovered Pluto in 1930:

Some of Tombaugh's ashes are making the journey on New Horizons.

So wonderful.
posted by mediareport at 7:23 AM on July 9, 2015

Here's what the canister looks like, from a neat January article about his surviving family members:

"This refocuses the interest in a positive fashion," Annette said. "I thought the status would always be, 'Oh, forget Pluto.' ... But as we go through this event, it's going to make people aware that there is a whole other part of the solar system that is highly populated with many more bodies than the original eight, or nine, or 10.

"Getting close to Pluto is going to widen our view of not just our solar system, but the universe."

posted by mediareport at 7:36 AM on July 9, 2015

This is so wildly exciting, I almost can't even say.
There's gotta be an alien city down there! Or maybe just a robot re-processing plant, a fuel stop before the asteroid belt! Maybe a way station for the inter-galactic taxi service! Maybe not a damn thing except for some fossils (which ok we won't see this time)!
Maybe some hint as to why it spins the way it does! Who's the boss, Pluto or Charon?
Why, in the name of all that is the best of what makes humans human, have we not sent out dozens/hundreds of these probes throughout the Galaxy?
We live in heady times.
posted by From Bklyn at 9:52 PM on July 9, 2015

The newest image is even more interesting. I'm kind of sad we are going to be looking at the other face close up, because damn if the dark line running from the hexagonal feature doesn't look liquid-carved. Not necessarily the neon rivers speculated about or any kind of permanent feature, but it sure looks like at one point liquid flowed from a crater feature down to a lower plain. Maybe something more like the moon's maria than Titan's seas.
posted by tavella at 4:24 PM on July 11, 2015

Pluto has six moons, and it is only tidally locked to one of them, Charon. This means that tidal forces are gradually spiralling the others either inward or outward. My best guess for the dark beads is that was one that spiralled inward, broke up within the Roche limit, and crashed.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:26 PM on July 11, 2015

That was my earlier thought too, since they are along the equator. But in the latest photo, they look more irregular than I would expect in that case. There's white features extending out into them with what looks to be corrugated edges. Though perhaps those could be 'glaciers' advancing into a plain caused by craters being filled with liquid that froze? Either way, it sure looks like a surface that was damn dynamic at some point.
posted by tavella at 4:39 PM on July 11, 2015

Yeah my money would be on large moonlet impactors making mini-maria, which would in turn grow and have geology post-impact. Of course it would probably be different materials, much in the way water seems to play the role of rock and magma on Titan.

Also if Charon is made mostly of what Pluto's crust and mantle are made of with no core, the possibility becomes very interesting that it was formed by a collision similar to the one believed to have created Earth's Moon.
posted by Bringer Tom at 2:28 PM on July 12, 2015

And we're there! Would you look at that
posted by zamboni at 5:55 AM on July 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Pluto in Pluto. I can never look at it the same way again...
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:26 AM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh my. Is it weird to say that I find minor planet 134340 strangely attractive?
posted by duncan42 at 5:29 PM on July 14, 2015

Not happy. Not happy at all.
posted by Wordshore at 12:52 PM on July 15, 2015

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