On July 11th, 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft took its last spectacular images of Pluto’s far side from a distance of 4 million kilometres. This is one of the best photographs of the dwarf planet’s mysterious dark spots.
New Horizons has been dashing towards the former ninth planet of our solar system and will be arriving on July 14th. But until it arrives, it has a grand mission: that of providing astronomers with data and photographs of that which it encounters.
Despite its recent demotion, the dwarf planet still seems to like humanity, as one of these photographs depicted Pluto with a near-perfect hard shape bright area on its rusty surface. But the New Horizons spacecraft’s mission doesn’t end with Pluto. After its arrival, it will proceed towards the Kuiper Belt, a massive ring of rock and ice among which the demoted dwarf planet reigns supreme.
The mysterious dark spots on Pluto’s far side are always facing Charon, Pluto’s largest moon. Because of the angle at which New Horizons will be soaring past Pluto on the 14th, it won’t be able to capture any more pictures. So this latest photo isn’t just only the best look we’ve yet to obtain, but also the last we will have of Pluto’s far side.
There is a total of five dark patches, with four 300-mile wide ones linking up to one larger patch circling Pluto’s equator. Scientists haven’t yet reached a consensus on whether they are plains or plateaus, or whether they are simply brightness variations in an otherwise smooth surface.
“It’s easy to imagine you’re seeing familiar shapes in this bizarre collection of light and dark features. However, it’s too early to know what these features really are.”
One New Horizons will have passed Pluto and its fastidiously-named moons (Charon, Nix, Styx, Hydra and Kerberos), the spacecraft will move on to investigate the celestial bodies of the Kuiper Belt in hopes of understanding how Pluto fits in.
Today, we still don’t possess much information regarding Pluto. In fact, the latest 2 moons that were discovered were only identified after New Horizons’ launch. According to Alan Stern, principal investigator in the mission, the team of astronomers isn’t planning to rewrite textbooks on Pluto.
“We’re planning to write them from scratch,” he said.
Latest posts by Anne-Marie Jackson (see all)
- SF Hospital Slaps New Parents with $19K Bill for Baby Treatment - Jun 29, 2018
- Furious Trump Blasts Harley-Davidson for Moving Production Overseas - Jun 28, 2018
- Warning! MRI Machines Could Poison You - Jun 27, 2018