Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Horizons

Nasa's spacecraft, New horizons is flying by Pluto today, its point of closest approach scheduled for this morning EST (late afternoon for us). The mission is expected to yield new insights into the last known world, the icy dwarf planet, which had its status demoted from a planet a few  years ago, much to the chagrin of those who always thought it was a planet (viz. us!). Since this is the first fly by Pluto, the planetary scientists are licking their lips, waiting for data of kinds never seen before. Every first fly by other planets like Mars, Saturn and Jupiter has revealed unexpected features. Pluto is about to reveal its secrets. New horizons are about to be seen in planetary astronomy. Do stand by.

Photo: NASA, Pluto and Charon, July 12, 2015. Picture taken by the New Horizon spacecraft.


New horizons emerged safely from the fly by and communications blackout, and is beaming stunning pictures from the fly by. Here is an icy mountain.

 This mountain is as high as the Rockies, and is fairly young, as seen by the lack of craters. This evidence of recent geological activity in the icy planet will provoke much speculation, and new geological theories. Meanwhile CERN found the pentaquark yesterday, so quantum mechanical scales are competing with astronomical scales in new discoveries. This is truly an exciting time to be a physicist. Let's see what both scales throw up next.


More goodies from the New Horizons bag. A mountain in a moat on Charon. Here is the picture.

The heart shaped feature seen in the most popular Pluto picture are really icy plains which look like this:

By the way, the processor on New Horizons is a reprogrammed PlayStation chip. It shows anything that can play video games, can fly across the Solar System and and send back the most amazing data and pictures. Was it worthwhile having a nine year mission for a three minute flyby? You bet it was!
Just look above.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

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