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New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto

Flowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons mission, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders.


Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, Southwest Research Institute

Slide 1

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Pluto and Charon are shown in a composite of natural-color images from New Horizons. Images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to produce these views, which portray Pluto and Charon as an observer riding on the spacecraft would see them. The images were acquired on July 13 and 14, 2015

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 2a

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Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this global view of Pluto. (The lower right edge of Pluto in this view currently lacks high-resolution color coverage.) The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers), twice the resolution of the single-image view taken on July 13.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 2b

01_Stern_02b_Pluto_Nat_Color.jpg

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Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this global view of Pluto. The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers).

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 2c

01_Stern_02c_Pluto_Nat_Color.jpg

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Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this global view of Pluto. (The lower right edge of Pluto in this view currently lacks high-resolution color coverage.) The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers).

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 3

01_Stern_03_Pluto_Color_TXT.jpg

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Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view of Pluto. (The lower right edge of Pluto in this view currently lacks high-resolution color coverage.) The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers).

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 4

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Searching for signs of an atmosphere around Pluto’s largest moon Charon, New Horizons’ Alice instrument observed Charon passing in front of the sun—an event called an occultation—on July 14, 2015. Only a portion of the occultation data has been transmitted to Earth so far; in that limited dataset, an atmosphere has not yet been detected.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 5

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Backlit by the sun, atmospheric haze rings Pluto’s silhouette like a luminous halo in this image taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft around midnight EDT on July 15. This global portrait of the atmosphere was captured when the spacecraft was about 1.25 million miles (2 million kilometers) from Pluto and shows structures as small as 12 miles across. The image was delivered to Earth on July 23.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Michael Summers, New Horizons co-investigator, George Mason University

Slide 1a

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Speeding away from Pluto just seven hours after its July 14 closest approach, the New Horizons spacecraft looked back and captured this spectacular image of Pluto’s atmosphere, backlit by the sun. The image reveals layers of haze that are several times higher than scientists predicted.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 1b

02_Summers_01b_HazeImage.jpg

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Image of Pluto’s hazes; false-color inset reveals a variety of structures, including two distinct layers

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 1c

02_Summers_01c_HazeImage.jpg

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Image of Pluto’s hazes; false-color inset reveals a variety of structures, including two distinct layers

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 2

Animation showing the link between the sunlight-driven chemistry in Pluto’s upper atmosphere and the reddish-brown hydrocarbons that darken the surface

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Slide 3a

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Chart indicating changes in Pluto’s surface pressure over time.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 3b

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Chart indicating changes in Pluto’s surface pressure, marking time of the New Horizons radio science (REX) measurements.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Cathy Olkin, New Horizons deputy project scientist, Southwest Research Institute

Slide 1

03_Olkin_01.jpg

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Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view of Pluto. (The lower right edge of Pluto in this view currently lacks high-resolution color coverage.) The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers), twice the resolution of the single-image view taken on July 13, 2015.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 2

03_Olkin_02.jpg

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Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view of Pluto. (The lower right edge of Pluto in this view currently lacks high-resolution color coverage.) The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers).

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 3

03_Olkin_03.jpg

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Within the circled region of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum, New Horizons Ralph instrument has detected frozen methane, nitrogen, and carbon monoxide.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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William McKinnon, New Horizons co-investigator, Washington University at St. Louiso

Slide 1

This animation shows the location of a new mosaic of seven images that were acquired by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14. The mosaic covers the vast icy region informally named Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), lying within the heart-shaped feature informally named Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region). Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI.

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Slide 2

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Mosaic of seven images that were acquired by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, covering the vast icy region informally named Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), lying within the heart-shaped feature informally named Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region). Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI..

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Image 2a

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The orange rectangle shows the location of features in the north region of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 2b

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In the northern region of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum, swirl-shaped patterns of light and dark suggest that a surface layer of exotic ices has flowed around obstacles and into depressions, much like glaciers on Earth.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 2c

04_McKinnon_02c.jpg

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Annotated image of the northern region of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum, swirl-shaped patterns of light and dark suggest that a surface layer of exotic ices has flowed around obstacles and into depressions, much like glaciers on Earth.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 3a

04_McKinnon_03a.jpg

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The orange rectangle shows the location of features in the southern region of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 3b

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The southern region of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum contains newly discovered ranges of mountains that have been informally named Hillary Montes (Hillary Mountains) and Norgay Montes (Norgay Montes) for Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first two humans to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 3c

04_McKinnon_03c.jpg

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Annotated image of the southern region of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum. The large crater highlighted in the image is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) wide, approximately the size of the greater Washington, DC area.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Slide 4

Simulated flyover of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum and Hillary Montes, created from New Horizons close approach images

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