What has the scientists particularly baffled is the orderly fashion the similarly-sized dots appear alongside the planet’s equatorial line, which looks almost like Pluto has slipped on a giant pearl necklace in time for its photo shoot with New Horizon’s imaging gear.
Each one is thought to be about 300 miles in diameter, however scientists as stumped as to what exactly they are and why their size and spacing are so similar. “Soon we will know if there are differences in the presence of methane ice from one part of Pluto to another”, said New Horizons Surface Composition team leader Will Grundy in a June 30 press release.
New Horizons team members combined black-and-white images of Pluto and Charon from the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) with lower-resolution color data from the Ralph instrument to produce these views. The decision on whether to keep the spacecraft on its original course or adopt a Safe Haven by Other Trajectory, or “SHBOT” path, had to be made this week since the last opportunity to maneuver New Horizons onto an alternate trajectory is July 4. The image shows a reddish-brown Pluto contrasted with its darker companion, Charon. “In fact, on Pluto’s moon Charon, we see an anti-polar cap – a dark cap, a dark pole, which is very unusual and we don’t understand it. But we’re going to get a lot closer, and we’re going to see a lot better”. New Horizons is now less than 9.5 million miles (15 million kilometers) from the Pluto system. Well, excitement is now escalating as the probe is making its closest approach to the dwarf planet on July 16.
The craft is currently on the approach to Pluto’s system. As the spacecraft moves closer, it has started sending clearer images of the dwarf planet and its moons.
As said by Engadget, the space probe is also created to study the environment around Pluto by detecting ions in an attempt to shed more light into Pluto’s escaping atmosphere and how quickly it is happening.
New Horizons blasted into space atop an Atlas V rocket in January 2006. As they depart, these atoms become caught up in the solar wind, the stream of subatomic particles that emanates from the Sun.
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