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NASA

New Horizons' First Ultra High Resolution Photos of Pluto Released 52

StartsWithABang writes: After a 9 year journey to Pluto, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to Pluto this past July, taking so much data that it will take a full 16 months to send it all back. The first of the highest resolution photos ever taken were released by NASA earlier today, and before the data has even been scientifically analyzed, a visual inspection teaches us a number of things about its sedimentary history, its active geology and its transient, eroding mountainous terrain. Perhaps the best part: Pluto is the prototype for the most common type of world in the Universe, even though it's not a planet anymore.
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New Horizons' First Ultra High Resolution Photos of Pluto Released

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  • Fascinating (Score:2, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 )

    What an amazing pla....uh...round thing!

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      It's okay, the New Horizons team still calls it a planet.

      • by jc42 ( 318812 )

        It's okay, the New Horizons team still calls it a planet.

        And we might also note that, by conventional English syntax, "dwarf planet" means a kind of planet, one somewhat smaller than average. Somehow, a lot of people don't seem to understand English syntax well enough to figure that out. ;-)

        Of course, we don't have a good enough sample yet to say what size an average planet (without modifiers) might look like.

        • and yet we don't insist on saying Jupiter isn't a planet but is a gas giant planet or just a big ass planet and we don't insist that earth isn't a planet but a rocky planet. The embarrassing result of the Pluto images is that it is clear the damn thing is a planet with real active geology and not just a dead chunk of leftovers. Better to call it an ice planet or something that refers to that unique reality. And in general call it what it is - a planet.
          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            I've seen that referred to as the "Captain Kirk" test. If the Enterprise were to approach a large body in space, and Captain Kirk would look at it and say, "Scotty, beam us down to that planet" (rather than "asteroid" or "comet" or whatever else), then a definition for what's a planet should ideally encompass it. That is, to say, it matches peoples' expectations of what a planet is vs. what an asteroid is - big enough that it's pulled itself into a sphere and in the process released heat causing differentia

    • It's the top of BaitsForAClick's bald head. He shaved it because he thinks it makes him look like a badass biker.

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @02:59AM (#51061819) Homepage Journal

    Slartibartfast must be proud.

  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @03:47AM (#51061905) Journal

    Pluto is the prototype for the most common type of world in the Universe

    It may be true that Kuiper-belt-like objects are the most common kind, but Pluto is probably unique in that it comes relatively close to the sun, and the temporary heat is likely what causes the "pumping action" that shapes Pluto's dynamic geology. Bodies further out may not get enough energy from the sun to drive similar processes.

    But being we've only seen one so far*, we can only speculate. Although other large Kuiper bodies are (on average) further away, they may still come close enough on occasion for some of the same heat/cold pump cycling action.

    Eris is a possible example. It comes about as close as Pluto does but swings further away. It would be interesting to see how a wider temperature range shapes it.

    * Some moons of the gas giants may be from the Kuiper belt, but being close to a large planet shapes them in ways that makes it difficult to know what they originally were like.

    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @04:18AM (#51061953) Homepage

      There's also the possibility of much larger objects further out - we're not very good at detecting objects in our solar system at 100+ AU. WISE effectively ruled out Jupiter and Saturn sized bodies a good way out toward the Oort Cloud, but there could be Mars-sized bodies as near as 100-200 AU and Earth-sized bodies as near as a few hundred AU, and potentially Uranus/Neptune sized bodies further than that.

      I really look forward to the LSST [wikipedia.org] coming online in a few years - the number of discoveries it should make should be incredible. :) Its not the largest telescope under construction but it's designed to be a data flood - its 3,2 gigapixel camera will produce up to 30 TB of data per night. Virtually anything of significant size that moves in the solar system, it's going to see it. It's expected to, for example, detect 100% of all KBOs larger than 100km, whereas we only know of an estimated 1% of them today.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

        There's also the possibility of much larger objects further out...

        That certainly may be true, but for larger objects to have avoided detection thus far, they are probably too far away from the Sun to be affected by it often enough.

        Even IF such further objects do swing close to the sun on occasion, they probably due so too infrequently for the "heat pump" action to make much difference to their geology.

        We've probably spotted all the larger ones with shorter-period orbits, because those have to be fairly clos

    • by Ranbot ( 2648297 )

      It may be true that Kuiper-belt-like objects are the most common kind, but Pluto is probably unique in that it comes relatively close to the sun, and the temporary heat is likely what causes the "pumping action" that shapes Pluto's dynamic geology. Bodies further out may not get enough energy from the sun to drive similar processes....

      If I'm reading you correctly I disagree that that direct heat energy (rays) from the sun is the main driver of geologic processes on Pluto. Pluto's orbit is so far out that the Sun would be about 1000 times dimmer than on earth, so Sun's ability to drive weather and, in turn, geologic processes would be severely limited to say the least. I think it's more likely Pluto's 5 orbiting moons exert varying gravitational forces on Pluto's core creating friction and heat from within the dwarf planet driving geologi

  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Saturday December 05, 2015 @04:44AM (#51061977)

    Anyone else see the Hobbit door at 0:31?

    Just wondering...

    • With that messy ground, i guess you may see whatever you want to see.. Did you watch a Peter Jackson movie recently?
    • “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and at -240 degrees Celcius, that means Pluto.”

    • It's Fwiffo.

  • I get that NASA is a US-based and funded organization, so they must put U.S. customary measurements like miles on images for public consumption. But why not at least put *both* measurement scales on these images? Everyone knows they actually do all their science, and operate internally, exclusively in metric.
  • I know to many it's probably boring, but having grown up as a kid seeing the amazing images from Voyager, seeing these is a real treat, I feel lucky to live in an age where such things are possible.

    It's cool on so many nerd levels too. It's cool to be able to see these images, but it's also awesomely cool to be able to dig into the details of how it all works, from communication link budgets to the software to the RTG's etc.

    • This was he thing that nerds used to be into before the comic book crowd took over and everyone with a batman hood was a nerd.
  • I'm surprised no one has made this reference, but I for one am shocked to not see the Skyway! [wikipedia.org]

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