NASA released more amazing space imagery and scientific data, slowly and steadily coming down to earth from the New Horizons space probe after its historic fly-by of Pluto. Boing Boing followed the press conference and downloaded all the fun stuff for you. Scroll down for amazing space images, video, and animation– and stay tuned for stereo images in the weeks to come. More data to be released weekly.
In the stunning video released today, a simulated flyover of Pluto's Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) and Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain). The animation was created from New Horizons closest-approach images. Norgay Montes have been informally named for Tenzing Norgay, one of the first two humans to reach the summit of Mount Everest. This, by the way, makes Norgay the first person from Nepal to have something named for him on another world.
Sputnik Planum is informally named for Earth's first artificial satellite. The images were acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers). Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible.
The download rates are very slow. So far NASA has retrieved 1Gb of ~50Gb on-board the spacecraft.
During the presser, Jeff Moore described one of the images as "not easy to explain terrain." What forces caused each of these features? After speculating on what these images might tell us, he said we still need more data and more analysis. "Jumping to conclusions comes at great peril."
But what we do know with this new data: Pluto's surface could be younger than 100 million years. This means our planet may have had bees for longer than Pluto has had surface we're seeing now.
This annotated view of a portion of Pluto's Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), named for Earth's first artificial satellite, shows an array of enigmatic features.
The surface appears to be divided into irregularly shaped segments that are ringed by narrow troughs, some of which contain darker materials. Features that appear to be groups of mounds and fields of small pits are also visible. This image was acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers). Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. The blocky appearance of some features is due to compression of the image.
In the latest data from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto's icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named "Tombaugh Regio" (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.
"This terrain is not easy to explain," said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations."
This fascinating icy plains region — resembling frozen mud cracks on Earth — has been informally named "Sputnik Planum" (Sputnik Plain) after the Earth's first artificial satellite. It has a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) across, bordered by what appear to be shallow troughs. Some of these troughs have darker material within them, while others are traced by clumps of hills that appear to rise above the surrounding terrain. Elsewhere, the surface appears to be etched by fields of small pits that may have formed by a process called sublimation, in which ice turns directly from solid to gas, just as dry ice does on Earth.
Scientists have two working theories as to how these segments were formed. The irregular shapes may be the result of the contraction of surface materials, similar to what happens when mud dries. Alternatively, they may be a product of convection, similar to wax rising in a lava lamp. On Pluto, convection would occur within a surface layer of frozen carbon monoxide, methane and nitrogen, driven by the scant warmth of Pluto's interior.
Pluto's icy plains also display dark streaks that are a few miles long. These streaks appear to be aligned in the same direction and may have been produced by winds blowing across the frozen surface.
Above, an artist's concept of the interaction of the solar wind (the supersonic outflow of electrically charged particles from the Sun) with Pluto's predominantly nitrogen atmosphere. Pluto is wagging its tail.
Some of the molecules that form the atmosphere have enough energy to overcome Pluto's weak gravity and escape into space, where they are ionized by solar ultraviolet radiation. As the solar wind encounters the obstacle formed by the ions, it is slowed and diverted (depicted in the red region), possibly forming a shock wave upstream of Pluto. The ions are "picked up" by the solar wind and carried in its flow past the dwarf planet to form an ion or plasma tail (blue region). The Solar Wind around Pluto (SWAP) instrument on the New Horizons spacecraft made the first measurements of this region of low-energy atmospheric ions shortly after closest approach on July 14. Such measurements will enable the SWAP team to determine the rate at which Pluto loses its atmosphere and, in turn, will yield insight into the evolution of the Pluto's atmosphere and surface. Also illustrated are the orbits of Pluto's five moons and the trajectory of the spacecraft.