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Author Topic: New Horizons spacecraft - Exploration of Pluto  (Read 818 times)
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« on: Jan 07, 2015, 01:25 PM »

Hello Pluto! NASA’s Visit to the Mystery World Begins

A remarkable spacecraft approaches the solar system's ninth planet (and yes, it's a planet)

On the spacecraft are some of the ashes of Pluto's discoverer Clyde Tombaugh who died in 1997. Pluto was discovered at 17° Cancer in 1930. In July 2015 Pluto will be at 14° Capricorn opposite the discovery degree.

It’s not exactly top secret, but it is too little known: this month, a small, robot spacecraft—built, launched and guided by a team of over 2,500 Americans—will begin the exploration of far-away Pluto and its five known moons. Lasting from January through July 2015, this epic journey is very much the Everest of planetary exploration.
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« Reply #1 on: Jan 18, 2015, 06:36 AM »

New Horizons begins first approach phase around Pluto

January 17, 2015
Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online

After a journey of more than eight years, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has finally entered the first of several planned approach phases around Pluto, and these will culminate with a historic first-ever flyby of the dwarf planet this summer.

According to a statement by Jim Green, director of the US space agency’s Planetary Science Division in Washington DC, “NASA’s first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind’s first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system. The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly.”

New Horizons, which lifted off in January 2006, woke up from its final hibernation period last month after a voyage of more than three billion miles, NASA officials said. It will pass close to Pluto in the near future, travelling inside the orbits of its five known moons, and will complete its long-awaited flyby on July 14.

To prepare for that encounter, which will take place 4.67 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, the mission’s science, engineering, and spacecraft operations teams configured the probe for distant observations of Pluto’s system. The teams started with a long-distance photo shoot using its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument on January 25.

“We’ve completed the longest journey any spacecraft has flown from Earth to reach its primary target, and we are ready to begin exploring,” explained Alan Stern, principal investigator for the New Horizons mission at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

According to NASA, LORRI is scheduled to take hundreds of pictures of Pluto over the next several months, helping to fine-tune current estimates of the distance between New Horizons and Pluto. While the dwarf planet’s system will appear to be nothing more than little bright dots in the camera’s view until May, the data will help navigators program course-corrections.

The first such maneuver could take place as early as March, they said.

“We need to refine our knowledge of where Pluto will be when New Horizons flies past it,” explained Mark Holdridge, New Horizons encounter mission manager at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

“The flyby timing also has to be exact, because the computer commands that will orient the spacecraft and point the science instruments are based on precisely knowing the time we pass Pluto – which these images will help us determine,” he added. This will be the first time that images from New Horizons will be used to help pinpoint Pluto’s location.

The first approach phase will last until spring, and during its approach, the spacecraft will be also be involved in several other scientific research projects. According to NASA, its instruments will collect continuous data on the interplanetary environment where the planetary system orbits, including measurements of the high-energy particles streaming from the sun and dust-particle concentrations in the inner reaches of the Kuiper Belt.

More extensive studies of Pluto will begin in the spring, when cameras and spectrometers on board New Horizons will being providing higher-resolution images than those that can be taken on Earth.

Eventually, the probe will be able to obtain photos with quality high enough to map Pluto and its moons more accurately than previously possible. It will even explore the outer region of the solar system and the thousands of Pluto-like small, icy planetoids believed to be there.

Who knows, maybe it will find a wormhole to other universes

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« Reply #2 on: Jan 27, 2015, 10:52 AM »

Nasa spacecraft in range for Pluto's first close up images

LA Times
Last updated 09:43, January 26 2015

Pluto, get ready for your close-up.

After travelling nine years across more than 3 billion kilometres of space, a spacecraft the size of a grand piano is about to give humanity its first high-resolution view of the dwarf planet that's about two-thirds the size of our moon.

Nobody knows what the rendezvous will reveal. Pluto's icy surface may resemble an extreme version of Antarctica, with snow-capped mountains, steep crevasses and towering ice cliffs. The planet could be surrounded by rings of tiny ice particles, like its giant neighbour Neptune. There may even be evidence that an ancient ocean once sloshed beneath the frozen crust of its largest moon, Charon.

When it comes to Pluto, nothing is certain.

"Our knowledge of Pluto is quite meagre," said planetary scientist Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the Nasa mission known as New Horizons. "It is very much like our knowledge of Mars was before our first mission there 50 years ago."

New Horizons is poised to change all that. This week, the spacecraft's long-range cameras will begin snapping pictures of Pluto and its moons against a backdrop of stars. New Horizons has been taking detailed measurements of the dust and charged particles in the dwarf planet's environment since mid-January.

More data will be collected during the months leading up to the mission's big moment this summer: a close approach on July 14 that will take the spacecraft just over 12,000km from Pluto's surface.

From that distance, New Horizons will be able to determine what the dwarf planet is made of, create temperature maps of its multi-colored surface, and look for auroras in its thin atmosphere. Scientists and the public will see the first high-definition images later in the year.

Until now, the best pictures astronomers have managed to get consist of a few hazy pixels that were captured by the Hubble Space Telescope more than a decade ago. The resolution is so poor that if you looked at a comparable image of Earth, you wouldn't be able to distinguish the continents from the seas.

The instruments on New Horizons will take images so detailed that if they were pictures of Los Angeles, they would show individual runways at Los Angeles International Airport, said Stern, who is based at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

"What I'm most looking forward to is taking this point of light and transforming it into a planet," he said.

The existence of a planet beyond Neptune was first hypothesise in the early 20th century after scientists noticed what they thought were disturbances in the orbits of Neptune and Uranus. Those wobbles turned out to be measurement errors, but decades of searching for the elusive "Planet X" led astronomers to Pluto in 1930.

Despite its great distance and diminutive size, scientists have been able to glean a remarkable amount of information from the anemic data gathered so far. By watching Pluto's movements across the night sky, they deduced that it takes 248 Earth years to make one trip around the sun. Because Pluto's brightness oscillates in a regular pattern, they think it makes a complete rotation on its axis every 6.4 Earth days.

Astronomers also noted that Pluto ventures far above and below the paths of the major planets in our night sky, leading them to conclude that its orbital plane has a distinctive tilt.

Close observations have revealed that Pluto has at least five moons — the biggest being Charon, which is about the size of Texas. After watching how Pluto's gravity affects the movement of these moons, scientists have a sense of what the dwarf planet's mass and volume might be and how much of it is made of rock and ice.

By examining the sunlight that reflects off Pluto through a prism, astronomers have been able to detect frozen methane, nitrogen and carbon monoxide on its surface. They've also determined that water ice appears to be absent.

Astronomers can even get a rough approximation of the temperature on Pluto's surface by using large telescopes to look at the radiation emitted from its surface after it travels feebly across billions of miles of space.

"It is amazing what scientists can squeeze out of pathetic data," said Hal Weaver, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University and the project scientist on New Horizons.

But in the last few decades, scientists have hit a wall.

"At some point you get the maximum amount of information out of the data that you can, and the only way to advance your understanding is to send a spacecraft out," said Richard Binzel, a professor at MIT and co-investigator on New Horizons.

Nasa has considered going to Pluto many times over the last 25 years, but three previous missions — Pluto Fast Flyby, Pluto Express and Pluto Kuiper Express — were shelved or cancelled. New Horizons got the green light in 2001 with a relatively low budget of US$700 million (more than NZ$900m).

"It is going to be a huge advance over anything we've done so far with telescopes on the ground," said UCLA astronomer Dave Jewitt.

The mission got a boost from the 1992 discovery by Jewitt and his former graduate student Jane Luu that Pluto was not alone in the distant band of the solar system now known as the Kuiper Belt. More than 1500 Kuiper Belt objects have been found so far - a cosmic zoo of bodies that vary in size, colour and composition.

Occasionally, these bodies get knocked out of their distant orbits and come zooming to the inner solar system, ejecting gas and dust as they encounter the sun's warmth for the first time. These are known as the short-period comets.

A handful of spacecraft have flown to these comets, including the European Space Agency's Rosetta orbiter. But New Horizons' visit to Pluto will provide the first glimpse of a Kuiper Belt object in its native habitat.

Pluto is the largest known member of the Kuiper Belt, but not by much. The dwarf planet Eris is close enough in size that astronomers briefly thought it might be larger, though that is no longer the case.

Pluto was still considered a full-fledged planet when New Horizons blasted off from Earth in 2006, but it was demoted to dwarf planet a few months later. The International Astronomical Union, which makes such determinations, said Pluto didn't make the cut because it wasn't hefty enough to prevent similar-sized objects from forming in its section of the solar system.

This indignity has not stopped the New Horizons scientists from describing their mission as one of planetary exploration.

"We will find out if it has enough mass that we think it deserves to be in the planet category," said Weaver, who helped find four of Pluto's five confirmed moons. "For now, I think calling it a dwarf planet still makes it a planet. Is a Chihuahua any less of a dog because it is small?"

Even if Pluto turns out to be smaller than astronomers anticipate, Binzel said he won't be disappointed.

"There is nothing about the quest for knowledge about Pluto that has anything to do with its label," he said.

New Horizons will spend most of 2015 collecting data from Pluto, its moons and its local area. Scientists anticipate that it will take until the fall of 2016 for the spacecraft to deliver its trove of data back to Earth.

By then, New Horizons may be on its way to visit other objects in the Kuiper Belt, if Nasa opts to extend the mission. Scientists have already identified two candidates, each about the size of Orange County, that they would like to study once the primary mission is over.

"They are another billion miles further out, and it would take us until 2019 to get there," Stern said. But astronomers don't want to miss this chance to visit objects that have been in a deep freeze since the dawn of the solar system.

"The spacecraft is healthy and full of fuel," he said. "The instruments are approved to go further."
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« Reply #3 on: Jan 28, 2015, 05:00 AM »

Hi Rad and Linda,

I wonder if this will correlate with the mainstream, the consensus, gaining new insights into the nature of the Soul and begin to accept reincarnation as fact.

Time will tell.

All the best

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« Reply #4 on: Apr 01, 2015, 06:46 PM »

What would it be like to live on Pluto?

See the video, and answer the 10 quizz questions

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« Reply #5 on: Apr 03, 2015, 11:56 AM »

I sure hope the navigation software is encoded with Pluto Vol. 1  Smiley
« Last Edit: Apr 15, 2015, 09:32 AM by Daniel » Logged
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« Reply #6 on: Apr 15, 2015, 09:17 AM »

Blurry Pluto will become clear with NASA flyby

Agence France-Presse
15 Apr 2015 at 05:49 ET 

The best picture we have of Pluto is a blurry, pixelated blob, but that is about to change when a NASA spacecraft makes the first-ever flyby of the dwarf planet.

The US space agency’s unmanned New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to pass by Pluto on July 14, and will send back unprecedented high-resolution images, allowing people to glimpse the surface of the distant celestial body in rich detail.

Pluto was long considered the ninth planet in the solar system, and the furthest from the sun. It was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006.

Rocky on the inside and icy on the outside, Pluto has five moons and resides in the Kuiper Belt, a zone of the solar system that is a relic of the era of planetary formation more than 4.5 billion years ago, and contains comets and the building blocks of small planets.

“It sounds like science fiction but it is not,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator on the New Horizons mission.

“Three months from today, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will make the first exploration of the Pluto system, the Kuiper Belt and the farthest shore of exploration ever reached by humankind,” Stern told reporters Tuesday.

- Size of a piano -

New Horizons, about the size of a baby grand piano, is the fastest moving spacecraft ever launched, and is traveling about a million miles (1.6 million kilometers) a day on its way to this unexplored frontier.

The 1,000-pound (465-kilogram) vehicle launched in 2006, on a journey of some three billion miles to get to Pluto.

It is powered by plutonium since the sunlight is so weak at that distance that solar arrays — often used in other kinds of spacecraft — would not work.

Stern described the spacecraft as being “in perfect health” and carrying a “scientific arsenal” of the most powerful suite of seven scientific instruments ever brought to bear on the first reconnaissance of a new celestial body.

“Nothing like this has been done in a quarter century and nothing like this is planned by any space agency ever again,” Stern said.

New Horizons aims to map the geology of Pluto and its moons. The largest, Charon, is the size of Texas.

Scientists hope to learn more about the atmosphere of Pluto, which is mainly nitrogen like Earth’s, and find out if Pluto and Charon have interior oceans.

- Fast flyby -

In mid-July, the spacecraft will pass by Pluto at a speed of 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) per hour.

The New Horizons spacecraft management team on Earth is aiming for a target point 7,750 miles from Pluto’s surface, but it will not be easy to get into the right position.

“We are flying three billion miles. We have to hit a target that is 60 by 90 miles, and we have to hit it within 100 seconds after nine and a half years. That’s the kind of precision we have to navigate to,” said Glen Fountain, New Horizons project manager at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Starting in May, high resolution images of Pluto and Charon should start arriving on Earth, said Cathy Olkin, New Horizons deputy project scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The spacecraft will continue sending bits of data and photos from the flyby until October 2016.

“We are going to have surprises and discoveries over the next year and a half,” Olkin told reporters.

Already, some images have begun to arrive, and atmospheric studies of the surface ices will begin in May and June, followed by plasma data, geologic and color data in August and more science in September.

But on the day of the closest approach, July 14, there will be no images, she said.

“We need to keep our sights on Pluto, we need to train our instruments on Pluto,” Olkin said.

“We are all going to have to be patient while New Horizons is exploring Pluto.”

After the flyby of Pluto, New Horizons will carry on into the Kuiper Belt to study more about the history of planetary formation.

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« Reply #7 on: Apr 15, 2015, 01:58 PM »

This is SO exciting!!!  Cheesy

Can't wait to see the high resolution images of Pluto!
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« Reply #8 on: Apr 17, 2015, 10:30 PM »

The New Horizons probe, which is bearing down on Pluto, has captured its first colour image of the distant dwarf planet:
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« Reply #9 on: Apr 28, 2015, 06:53 AM »

New Horizons to study spider-like patterns on Pluto

April 27, 2015
Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft makes its flyby of Pluto in July, scientists are hoping to get an up-close look at dark, spider-like surface patterns caused by nitrogen ice and gas eruptions triggered during the dwarf planet’s ice geyser season.

As Discovery News explained on Friday, during Pluto’s ice geyser season, sunlight hits its north pole, causing ice and gas to spray across the surface. The patterns formed as a result of this odd phenomenon have been spotted several times over the years by ground-based observatories, and by the Hubble Space Telescope, but the US space agency is hoping to get a closer look.

Past observations have been unable to resolve details of the dwarf-planet’s surface, but have managed to confirm color and lighting changes that have taken place on a grand scale over the past four years. New Horizons could shed new light on these changes.

Evidence of frost movement found on the dwarf planet

Bonnie Buratti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory told the website that she and her colleagues are “pretty certain there is some kind of movement of frost” on Pluto. To support that theory, she cites evidence of telescope observations demonstrating how the planet reflects light while it spins on its axis.

Buratti and her colleagues compared those curves to simulated ones which assume that there is no frost rising from Pluto’s ice caps and being deposited elsewhere, causing some of the surface to become darker and others to become lighter, the website said. The modeled light curves do not match the observed ones, the JPL researcher explained.

“We compared it and for the last four years we’ve had substantial changes,” Buratti explained to Discovery News. Those changes are taking place as Pluto moves further away from the sun, but also during a period when the north pole of the planet is turning towards the star at the center of the solar system, creating an Earth-like northern summer.

Pluto could have geysers

Buratti and colleagues from Boston University, UCLA and Grays Harbor College report their findings on Pluto in the Astrophysical Journal Letters. They predict that New Horizons will find explosive geysers similar to those previously found on Triton and Mars, in light of the similarity between the dwarf planet and Neptune’s largest moon.

“We are pretty close to polar summer – so there is a lot of frost there to sublimate,” she pointed out, referring to the process where solid ice skips the liquid phase and turns directly into gas. As the sun’s rays hits the surface, they should be powerful enough to penetrate frozen nitrogen, even though Pluto is 32 times farther away from the sun than the Earth.

That would allow the dwarf planets polar cap to trap enough energy to convert some of that ice into pockets of gas, which accumulates pressure until it breaks through the surface. The impact of that blast would send nitrogen ice crystals all over the place, forming the spider-like patterns. Data from New Horizons should be able to prove or disprove this hypothesis.

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« Reply #10 on: May 02, 2015, 06:48 AM »

How to pronounce Pluto’s moon Charon

May 1, 2015
John Hopton for

Let’s just get down to it:

Even though it bares the same name as the Greek god Charon, which is pronounced like Karen, but with more emphasis on the -on (Kare-RON), Pluto’s moon is pronounced Share-ON, like a frustrated Ozzie Osbourne with diction training.

So why is this so confusing?

Well, according to NASA, the backstory of how it was named goes like this:

“Christy proposed the name Charon after the mythological ferryman who carried souls across the river Acheron, one of the five mythical rivers that surrounded Pluto’s underworld. Apart from the mythological connection for this name, Christy chose it because the first four letters also matched the name of his wife, Charlene.”

Which is pronounced “Shar-leen”. Hence Charon’s pronunciation, which is accepted by NASA and most astronomers. (We can’t speak for them all.)

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« Reply #11 on: May 14, 2015, 06:51 AM »

‘Family portrait’ captured of Pluto and moons

May 13, 2015
Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

NASA’s New Horizon probe took time out from analyzing the surface features of Pluto to snap a family portrait of sorts (of at least the family we already know about), capturing the first-ever images of the dwarf planet’s smallest and faintest known moons with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument.

According to Discovery News, the spacecraft was able to create an animated sequence of five 10-second observations from a distance of more than 55 million miles (88 million kilometers). Those pictures showed all five of Pluto’s known moons: the largest one, Charon, along with its smaller companions Nix and Hydra and the recently-discovered Styx and Kerberos.

“New Horizons is now on the threshold of discovery,” John Spencer, a member of the mission science team member from the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, said in a statement Tuesday. “If the spacecraft observes any additional moons as we get closer to Pluto, they will be worlds that no one has seen before.”

Meet the “kids” – i.e. the moons of Pluto

Kerberos and Styx were first discovered in 2011 and 2012, respectively, by members of the New Horizons team using the Hubble Space Telescope. Kerberos orbits between Nix and Hydra, travels around Pluto in 32 days, and is no more than 20 miles in diameter.

On the other hand, Styx’s orbit is between those of Charon and Nix, and takes 20 days to make it around the dwarf planet. It is only 4 to 13 miles in diameter. Both moons are between 20 and 30 times fainter and Nix and Hydra, and while Kerberos can be seen in all of the images, Styx is not visible in the first one, as it was obscured by electronic artifacts in the camera.

For the sake of comparison, Discovery News pointed out that Charon is 750 miles wide, Nyx is between 29 and 85 miles wide and Hydra is between 37 and 92 miles wide. The uncertain width of each of these smaller moons should become clearer and the readings more precise as the New Horizons spacecraft draws closer to Pluto’s system en route to a July 14 flyby.

“Detecting these tiny moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera and John Spencer’s team of moon and ring hunters,” New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern from SwRI said in a statement.


New Horizons captured these views of Pluto and its moons on April 25, 2015. (NASA)

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« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2015, 03:42 PM »

NASA Pluto Probe May Carry Crowdsourced Message to Aliens

Voyager 1 Golden Record - Earth's cosmic voices
Marie Z
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« Reply #13 on: Jun 25, 2015, 07:37 AM »

Pluto and Charon get starring role in first color movie

June 23, 2015
Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

The first color movies of Pluto and its moon Charon have been beamed back from NASA’s New Horizons probe, and the footage shows the two objects in an unusual orbital dance of sorts, as the moon and the dwarf planet spin around one-another in an interstellar waltz.

According to Popular Science, the images were captured by New Horizons between May 29 and June 3, and the near-true color movies resemble “something out of an 8-bit video game,” making it possible for us to get a look at Pluto and Charon in all of their highly-pixilated glory.

The orbital dance that the two bodies are participating in is known as a double planet, and the US space agency explained in a statement that the footage was assembled from images taken in three colors (blue, red, and near-infrared) by New Horizons’ Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera.

“It’s exciting to see Pluto and Charon in motion and in color,” said Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), and principal investigator of the mission. “Even at this low resolution, we can see that Pluto and Charon have different colors – Pluto is beige-orange, while Charon is grey. Exactly why they are so different is the subject of debate.”

Footage shows the interstellar waltz from different angles

That mystery is one of many that NASA hopes New Horizons will be able to solve once it makes its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, traveling just 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) above the surface of the dwarf planet. As the first mission to the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt, it should provide new insight into the composition, atmosphere, and moons in the system.

While both movies were created using the same images, they show the Pluto-Charon pair from different perspectives. One depicts the movement of the moon in relation to the planet, making it “Pluto-centric,” while the other shows both objects around the shared center of gravity between them and is “barycentric.”

The Pluto-centric movie shows the dwarf planet make one turn around its axis every six days, nine hours and 17.6 minutes, the same amount of time in which Charon rotates in its orbit. Also in this footage, viewers can detect regular shifts in Pluto’s brightness. The barycentric movie shows that the center, marked by a small “x,” is closer to Pluto than Charon because Pluto is far more massive than its moon, NASA explained.

As cool as these new movies are, better things are yet to come from New Horizons.

“Color observations are going to get much, much better, eventually resolving the surfaces of Charon and Pluto at scales of just kilometers. This will help us unravel the nature of their surfaces and the way volatiles transport around their surfaces. I can’t wait; it’s just a few weeks away!” said Cathy Olkin, New Horizons deputy project scientist.


Hubble Finds Pluto’s Moons Tumbling in Absolute Chaos

June 3, 2015
Red Orbit

Pluto’s moons, you might have a hard time determining when, or from which direction, the sun will rise each day. Comprehensive analysis of data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows that two of Pluto’s moons, Nix and Hydra, wobble unpredictably. “Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “When the New Horizons spacecraft flies through the Pluto system in July we’ll get a chance to see what these moons look like up close and personal.” The moons wobble because they’re embedded in a gravitational field that shifts constantly. This shift is created by the double planet system of Pluto and Charon as they whirl about each other. Pluto and Charon are called a double planet because they share a common center of gravity located in the space between the bodies. Their variable gravitational field sends the smaller moons tumbling erratically. The effect is strengthened by the football-like, rather than spherical, shape of the moons. Scientists believe it’s likely Pluto’s other two moons, Kerberos and Styx, are in a similar situation. The astonishing results, found by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and Doug Hamilton of the University of Maryland at College Park, will appear in the June 4 issue of the journal Nature. "Prior to the Hubble observations, nobody appreciated the intricate dynamics of the Pluto system,” Showalter said. “Our research provides important new constraints on the sequence of events that led to the formation of the system.” Showalter also found three of Pluto’s moons are presently locked together in resonance, meaning there is a precise ratio for their orbital periods. “If you were sitting on Nix, you would see that Styx orbits Pluto twice for every three orbits made by Hydra,” noted Hamilton. Hubble data also reveal the moon Kerberos is as dark as a charcoal briquette, while the other frozen moons are as bright as sand. It was predicted that dust blasted off the moons by meteorite impacts should coat all the moons, giving their surfaces a homogenous look, which makes Kerberos’ coloring very surprising. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which will fly by the Pluto system in July, may help settle the question of the asphalt-black moon, as well as the other oddities uncovered by Hubble. These new discoveries are being used to plan science observations for the New Horizons flyby. The turmoil within the Pluto-Charon system offers insights into how planetary bodies orbiting a double star might behave. For example, NASA’s Kepler space observatory has found several planetary systems orbiting double stars. “We are learning chaos may be a common trait of binary systems,” Hamilton said. “It might even have consequences for life on planets if found in such systems.” Clues to the Pluto commotion first came when astronomers measured variations in the light reflected off Nix and Hydra. Analyzing Hubble images of Pluto taken from 2005 to 2012, scientists compared the unpredictable changes in the moons’ brightness to models of spinning bodies in complex gravitational fields. Pluto's moons are believed to have been formed by a collision between the dwarf planet and a similar-sized body early in the history of our solar system. The smashup flung material that consolidated into the family of moons observed around Pluto today. Its binary companion, Charon, is almost half the size of Pluto and was discovered in 1978. Hubble discovered Nix and Hydra in 2005, Kerberos in 2011, and Styx in 2012. These little moons, measuring just tens of miles in diameter, were found during a Hubble search for objects that could be hazards to the New Horizons spacecraft as it passes the dwarf planet in July. Researchers say a combination of Hubble data monitoring and New Horizon’s brief close-up look, as well as future observations with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will help settle many mysteries of the Pluto system. No ground-based telescopes have yet been able to detect the smallest moons. “Pluto will continue to surprise us when New Horizons flies past it in July,” Showalter said. “Our work with the Hubble telescope just gives us a foretaste of what’s in store.” The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington. (Credit: NASA/ESA/A. Feild [STScI])

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