Space Missions

White Spots in Crater

On March 6, NASA's Dawn spacecraft began orbiting Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Even before the spacecraft arrived at the dwarf planet, images revealed mysterious bright spots that captivated scientists and observers alike. New images of dwarf planet Ceres, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, show the cratered surface of this mysterious world in sharper detail than ever before. These are among the first snapshots from Dawn's second mapping orbit, which is 2,700 miles (4,400 km) above Ceres. The region with the brightest spots is in a crater about 55 miles (90 km) across. The spots consist of many individual bright points of differing sizes, with a central cluster. So far, scientists have found no obvious explanation for their observed locations or brightness levels.

Images Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Posted on 2016-07-26

Inside Dantu Crater

Dawn's low vantage point captured the dense network of fractures on the floor of 78-mile-wide (126 km) Dantu Crater. This cracking may have resulted from the cooling of impact melt, or when the crater floor was uplifted after the crater formed. A 20-mile (32-km) crater west of Dantu is covered in steep slopes, called scarps, and ridges. These features likely formed when the crater partly collapsed during the formation process. The curvilinear nature of the scarps resembles those on the floor of Rheasilvia, the giant impact crater on protoplanet Vesta. Dawn took this image on Dec. 21 from its low-altitude mapping orbit (LAMO) at an approximate altitude of 240 miles (385 km) above Ceres. The image resolution is 120 feet (35 meters) per pixel.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Posted on 2016-01-12

Closest View of Occator

To date the closest view of Occator crater, with a resolution of 140 meters per pixel (three times finer than images taken from Dawn's previous orbit), taken at an altitude of 1,470 kilometers. The rim of Occator crater is almost vertical in some places, where it rises steeply for over 1,500 meters. The new up-close view of Occator crater from Dawn's current vantage point reveals better-defined shapes of the brightest, central spot and features on the crater floor. Because these spots are so much brighter than the rest of Ceres' surface, the Dawn team combined two different images into a single composite view -- one properly exposed for the bright spots, and one for the surrounding surface. Still, the nature of the bright features remain a mystery.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Posted on 2015-09-09

Ceres' Lonely Mountain

NASA's Dawn spacecraft spotted this tall, conical mountain on Ceres from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers). The mountain, located in the southern hemisphere, stands 4 miles (6 kilometers) high. Its perimeter is sharply defined, with almost no accumulated debris at the base of the brightly streaked slope. Position is 11°S 316°E (positive east). The image was taken on August 19, 2015. The resolution of the image is 450 feet (140 meters) per pixel.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Posted on 2015-08-26

Ceres' Urvara Peaks

NASA's Dawn spacecraft took this image that shows a mountain ridge, near lower left, that lies in the center of Urvara crater on Ceres. Urvara is an Indian and Iranian deity of plants and fields. The crater's diameter is 101 miles (163 kilometers), its position is 45.66°S 248.71°E (positive east). This view was acquired on August 19, 2015, from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers). The resolution of the image is 450 feet (140 meters) per pixel.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Posted on 2015-08-26

Ceres' Gaue Crater

NASA's Dawn Spacecraft took this image of Gaue crater, the large crater on the bottom, on Ceres. Gaue is a Germanic goddess to whom offerings are made in harvesting rye. The center of this crater is sunken in. Its diameter is 84 kilometers (52 miles), its position is 30.99°N 85.77°E (positive east). The resolution of the image is 450 feet (140 meters) per pixel. The image was taken from a distance of 915 miles (1,470 kilometers) on August 18, 2015.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Posted on 2015-08-26

Enhanced View of Occator Crater

'Occator' (named after the Roman agriculture deity) is a crater located on the northern hemisphere of Ceres and already famous for its bright reflections in its center. The albedo of these bright spots is high but lower than that of ice concentration. The crater is 90km across and 4km deep. This image from the Dawn spacecraft was processed as to exaggerate the relief 5 times higher than natural for improved visualization. Dawn will resume its observations of Ceres in mid-August from an altitude of less than 1,500 km, or three times closer to than its previous orbit height.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/LPI

Posted on 2015-08-06

Dawn Spirals Closer to Ceres

This image of Ceres is part of a sequence taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on May 23, 2015, from a distance of 3,200 miles (5,100 km). Resolution in the image is about 1,600 feet (480 meters) per pixel. The view shows numerous secondary craters, formed by the re-impact of debris strewn from larger impact sites. Smaller surface details like this are becoming visible with increasing clarity as Dawn spirals lower in its campaign to map Ceres. The region shown here is located between 13 degrees and 51 degrees north latitude and 182 degrees and 228 degrees east longitude. The image has been projected onto a globe of Ceres, which accounts for the small notch of black at upper right. After transmitting images to Earth on May 23, 2015, Dawn resumed ion-thrusting toward its second mapping orbit.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Posted on 2015-07-26

Cryovolcanoes on Pluto

January 14, 2016 - New Horizons scientists assembled a picture of a potential cryovolcano from frames imaged during the craft's flyby. Informally named Wright Mons, the suspected volcano spans about 90 miles (150 km) across and raises up to 2.5 miles (4 km) high. The feature exhibits sparse distribution of not widespread red material and merely one impact crater indicating that the surface was created recently, possibly volcanically active late in Pluto's history. This composite image includes pictures taken by the New Horizons spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a range of about 30,000 miles (48,000 km), showing features as small as 1,500 feet (450 meters) across. Sprinkled across the LORRI mosaic is enhanced color data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) gathered about 20 minutes after the LORRI snapshots were taken, from a range of 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) and at a resolution of about 2,100 feet (650 meters) per pixel. The entire scene is 140 miles (230 kilometers) wide. The Mons is located west of the southern tip of 'The Heart'.

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

Posted on 2016-01-14

Nix

December 18, 2015 - This recently received panchromatic image of Pluto's small satellite Nix taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) aboard New Horizons is one of the best images of Pluto's third-largest moon generated by the NASA mission. Taken on July 14 at a range of about 14,000 miles (23,000 kilometers) from Nix, the illuminated surface is about 12 miles (19 kilometers) by 29 miles (47 kilometers). The unique perspective of this image provides new details about Nix's geologic history and impact record.

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

Posted on 2015-12-18

Kuiper Belt Object

December 4, 2015 - NASA's New Horizons spacecraft recently took the closest images ever of a distant Kuiper Belt object - demonstrating its ability to observe numerous such bodies over the next several years. In a short animation, consisting of four frames taken by the spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on Nov. 2, 2015, and spaced an hour apart, one can see this 90-mile (150-kilometer)-wide ancient body, officially called 1994 JR1, moving against a background of stars. When these images were made, 1994 JR1 was 3.3 billion miles (5.3 billion kilometers) from the sun, but only 170 million miles (280 million kilometers) away from New Horizons - setting a record, by a factor of at least 15, for the closest-ever picture of a small body in the Kuiper Belt, the solar system's 'third zone' beyond the inner, rocky planets and outer, icy gas giants. New Horizons is on course for a close flyby of another Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69, on Jan. 1, 2019.

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

Posted on 2015-12-04

Shoreline of Sputnik Planum

December 4, 2015 - In this highest-resolution image from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, great blocks of Pluto's water-ice crust appear jammed together in the informally named al-Idrisi mountains, abruptly forming a shoreline to the informally named Sputnik Planum. The materials appear crushed between the mountains, as if these great blocks of water ice, some standing as much as 1.5 miles high, were jostled back and forth. This view is about 50 miles wide. The top of the image is to Pluto's northwest. The image was captured at 11:36 UT on July 14 - just about 15 minutes before New Horizons' closest approach to Pluto - from a range of just 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers).

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

Posted on 2015-12-04

Pluto's Stunning Crescent

October 29, 2015 - This image was made just 15 minutes after New Horizons' closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, as the spacecraft looked back at Pluto toward the sun. The wide-angle perspective of this view shows the deep haze layers of Pluto's atmosphere extending all the way around Pluto, revealing the silhouetted profiles of rugged plateaus on the night (left) side. The shadow of Pluto cast on its atmospheric hazes can also be seen at the uppermost part of the disk. On the sunlit side of Pluto (right), the smooth expanse of the informally named icy plain Sputnik Planum is flanked to the west (above, in this orientation) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. Below (east) of Sputnik, rougher terrain is cut by apparent glaciers. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen high-altitude layers of haze in Pluto's tenuous atmosphere. The horizontal streaks in the sky beyond Pluto are stars, smeared out by the motion of the camera as it tracked Pluto. The image was taken with New Horizons' Multi-spectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto. The resolution is 700 meters (0.4 miles).

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

Posted on 2015-10-29

Portrait of Pluto's Moons

October 23, 2015 - Family Portrait of Pluto's Moons: This composite image shows a sliver of Pluto's large moon, Charon, and all four of Pluto's small moons, as resolved by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on the New Horizons spacecraft. All the moons are displayed with a common intensity stretch and spatial scale (see scale bar). Charon is by far the largest of Pluto's moons, with a diameter of 751 miles (1,212 kilometers). Nix and Hydra have comparable sizes, approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) across in their longest dimension above. Kerberos and Styx are much smaller and have comparable sizes, roughly 6-7 miles (10-12 kilometers) across in their longest dimension. All four small moons have highly elongated shapes, a characteristic thought to be typical of small bodies in the Kuiper Belt.

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

Posted on 2015-10-23

Charon in Enhanced Color

October 1, 2015 - NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has returned the best color and the highest resolution images yet of Pluto's largest moon, Charon just before closest approach on July 14, 2015 -- and these pictures show a surprisingly complex and violent history. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft's Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC); the colors are processed to best highlight the variation of surface properties across Charon. Charon's color palette is not as diverse as Pluto's; most striking is the reddish north (top) polar region, informally named Mordor Macula. Charon is 754 miles (1,214 kilometers) across; this image resolves details as small as 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers).

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

Posted on 2015-10-01

Ice Mountains and Plains

September 24, 2015 - High-resolution images of Pluto taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft just before closest approach on July 14, 2015, are the sharpest images to date of Pluto's varied terrain-revealing details down to scales of 270 meters. In this 75-mile (120-kilometer) section taken from the larger, high-resolution mosaic, the textured surface of the plain surrounds two isolated ice mountains that resemble the shape of a Klingon battleship in Star Trek.

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

Posted on 2015-09-24

Snakeskin Terrain

September 24, 2015 - In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus Dorsa, rise up along Pluto's day-night terminator and show intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between. This view, roughly 330 miles (530 kilometers) across, combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14, 2015, and resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers). This image shows an area on Pluto's best-mapped hemisphere near the line that separates day from night, captures a vast rippling landscape of strange, aligned linear ridges.

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

Posted on 2015-09-24

Spectacular Backlit Panorama

September 17, 2015 - Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto's horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named icy plain Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. To the right, east of Sputnik, rougher terrain is cut by apparent glaciers. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto's tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto, the scene is 780 miles (1,250 kilometers) wide.

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

Posted on 2015-09-17

Charon's Complexity

September 10, 2015 - This image of Pluto's largest moon Charon, taken by NASA\'s New Horizons spacecraft 10 hours before its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers), is a recently downlinked, much higher quality version of a Charon image released on July 15. Charon, which is 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) in diameter, displays a surprisingly complex geological history, including tectonic fracturing; relatively smooth, fractured plains in the lower right; several enigmatic mountains surrounded by sunken terrain features on the right side; and heavily cratered regions in the center and upper left portion of the disk. There are also complex reflectivity patterns on Charon's surface, including bright and dark crater rays, and the conspicuous dark north polar region at the top of the image. Charon's geological past was a torture.The smallest visible features are 2.9 miles (4.6 kilometers) in size.

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

Posted on 2015-09-10

Looking over Pluto

September 10, 2015 - This synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) above Pluto's equatorial area, looking northeast over the dark, cratered, informally named Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth, expanse of icy plains informally called Sputnik Planum. The entire expanse of terrain seen in this image is 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. The images were taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers). New Horizons began its yearlong download of new images and other data. Images downlinked in the past few days have more than doubled the amount of Pluto's surface seen at resolutions as good as 400 meters (440 yards) per pixel.

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

Posted on 2015-09-10

Global Map of Charon

Published on July 31, 2015, the science team of NASA's New Horizons mission has produced this global map of Pluto's largest moon, Charon. The map includes all available resolved images of the surface acquired between July 7-14, 2015, at pixel resolutions ranging from 40 kilometers (24 miles) on the anti-Pluto facing hemisphere (left and right sides of the map), to 400 meters (1,250 feet) per pixel on portions of the Pluto-facing hemisphere - the side facing the New Horizons spacecraft when it flew past the dwarf planet - at map center. Many additional images now stored on the spacecraft\'s digital data recorders are expected to be transmitted home in fall 2015 and these will be used to complete the global map. The map is in simple cylindrical projection, with zero longitude (the Pluto-facing direction) in the center. Today's global map measures 5,000 x 2,500 pixels and is 1.82MB large in JPEG image file format.

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

Posted on 2015-07-31

Global Map of Pluto

Published on July 27, 2015, the science team of NASA's New Horizons mission has produced an updated global map of the dwarf planet Pluto. The map includes all resolved images of the surface acquired between July 7-14, 2015, at pixel resolutions ranging from 40 kilometers (24 miles) on the Charon-facing hemisphere (left and right sides of the map) to 400 meters (1,250 feet) on the anti-Charon facing hemisphere (map center). Many additional images are expected in fall of 2015 and these will be used to complete the global map. Today\'s global map measures 18,630 x 9,315 pixels and is 6.27MB large in JPEG image file format.

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

Posted on 2015-07-27

Icy Mountains

Icy mountains as tall as 3,500m, July 15, 2015, altitude 77,000km

Posted on 2015-07-15

Charon's Terrain

Charon's terrain on July 15, 2015, altitude 466,000km.

Posted on 2015-07-15

Various Terrain

Left: Pluto offers a varied surface with icy mountains as tall as 3500 meters and no more than 100 million years old suggesting recent forming the region erasing former impact craters. The mountainous surface cannot have formed by tidal forces in that other processes are responsible while the surface may be still geologically active. The mountains are probably composed of Pluto's water-ice bedrock. Water-ice behaves more like rock at temperatures as low as that of Pluto. The close-up image resolving structures smaller than 1500 meters across was taken about 1.5 hours before New Horizons\' closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was about 77,000 kilometers from the surface.

Right: In the center left of Pluto's vast heart-shaped feature, informally named 'Tombaugh Regio' - lies a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. Inofficially named Sputnik Planum, a frozen region north of Pluto's icy mountains this terrain 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 77,000 kilometers, resolving features as small as a 1 kilometer across.

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

Posted on 2015-07-14

Pluto Global View

Pluto, July 12, 2015, 12.5 mkm

Posted on 2015-07-12

Physical Pluto

Pluto's exact diameter is uncertain to about ±25 km, but close to 2,380 km (1,500 miles); the circumference around Pluto's equator measures 14,891km. Surface composition so far known includes nitrogen, carbon monoxide, methane and ethane ices while many other materials may be present. With ranges of very bright and dark areas, Pluto's geologically active surface exhibits more contrast than any planet in the outer solar system. Pluto has a tenuous but complex atmosphere made mostly of nitrogen, with traces of methane, carbon monoxide, and some heavier hydrocarbons and undergoes extreme seasonal changes during an orbit around the Sun. Atmospheric surface pressure is currently about 50,000x less than on Earth, or about 300x less than on Mars. The surface gravity is merely about 6% that of Earth's. Estimated surface temperature is about -233°C (-387°F). Pluto's density is about twice that of water, indicating it is composed of a mixture of 35% ice and 65% rocky material. With ranges of very bright and dark areas, Pluto's surface has more contrast than any planet in the outer solar system.

Charon's diameter is about 1,208 kilometers (751 miles), the largest satellite relative to the planet it orbits. It\'s surface known to be mostly water ice, possibly also including ammoniated hydrates. Presence of atmosphere yet unknown, possible none. Like Pluto, Charon's density is about twice that of water, indicating it is composed of a mixture of 50% ice and 50% rocky material.

Pluto and Charon orbit each other in 6.3872 days from a synchronous distance of 19,636 km around a common barycenter which lies outside both bodies. As a result of tidal force Charon always shows the same face to Pluto - and vice versa as locked in a gravitational resonance. Pluto's rotational north pole is tilted 120° from celestial north, or 28° below the ecliptic plane resulting in extreme seasonal variation; at its solstices, 1/4 of its surface is in continuous daylight, whereas another fourth is in continuous darkness. Daylight on Pluto is weak, analogous to twilight on Earth. The orbit plane is tilted 17° from the ecliptic plane.

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

Posted on 0000-00-00

Sky Position

As of summer 2015, the Pluto system, as seen from Earth, is located in the upper half of the constellation Sagittarius near the 3rd magnitude star Albalda. Pluto is 50,000x fainter than Mars, with less than 1% of Mars' apparent diameter when viewed from Earth.

The orbit's elliptical (oval) shape ranges from 4.4 billion km (2.8 billion miles) to 7.3 billion km (4.6 billion miles) from the Sun, the current distance being 4.94 billion km. Between 1979 and 1999 Pluto moved inside Neptune's orbit.

Pluto is the largest and brightest known member of the Kuiper Belt - the solar system's third zone - a vast region of ancient, icy, rocky bodies stretching over 3 billion km beyond Neptune's orbit.

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

Posted on 0000-00-00

Pluto & Other TNOs

Pluto is currently the largest of a family of TNO\'s (trans-neptunian objects) while Charon is the largest known natural satellite out there. A TNO is any minor planet in the Solar System that orbits the Sun at a greater average distance (semi-major axis) than Neptune, i.e., 30 astronomical units (AU).

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

Posted on 0000-00-00

Nix & Hydra

Nix and Hydra are the two larger of Pluto's four small irregularly shaped moons. Hydra is the outermost, Nix the third from Pluto.

At the time the observations were taken New Horizons was about 102,000 miles (165,000 km) from Nix and 143,000 miles (231,000 km) from Hydra. The image shows features as small as approximately 2 miles (3 km) across on Nix, which is estimated to be 26 miles (42 km) long and 22 miles (36 km) wide. Features as small as 0.7 miles (1.2 km) are visible on Hydra, which measures 34 miles (55 km) in length.

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

Posted on 0000-00-00

Tombaugh Regio

A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto's heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio, situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain. This image was acquired on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 km) and sent back to Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (800 meters) across are visible. These frozen peaks are estimated to be one-half mile to one mile (0.8-1.6 km) high.

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

Posted on 0000-00-00

New Horizons Team Finds Haze

Speeding away from Pluto just seven hours after its July 14 closest approach, the New Horizons spacecraft looked back capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles (130 km) above Pluto's surface, higher than scientists predicted. A preliminary analysis of the image shows two distinct layers of haze -- one about 50 miles (80 km) above the surface and the other at an altitude of about 30 miles (50 km).

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Posted on 0000-00-00

Flowing Ices on Pluto

The New Horizons mission found in LORRI images evidence of exotic ices flowing across Pluto's surface and revealing signs of recent geologic activity and / or seasonal ice flow.

The new images show fascinating details within the Texas-sized plain, informally named Sputnik Planum, which lies within the western half of Pluto's heart-shaped feature, known as Tombaugh Regio. There, a sheet of ice clearly appears to have flowed -- and may still be flowing. At Pluto's temperatures of -230°C, these ices can flow like a glacier on Earth.

New compositional data from New Horizons' Ralph instrument indicate that the center of Sputnik Planum is rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane ices. In the southernmost region of the heart, adjacent to the dark equatorial region, it appears that ancient, heavily-cratered terrain (informally named 'Cthulhu Regio') has been invaded by much newer icy deposits. Image acquired on July 14, 2015 from a 100,000 km range.

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

Posted on 0000-00-00

Hillary Montes & Norgay Montes

The southern region of Pluto's Sputnik Planum contains newly discovered ranges of mountains that have been informally named Hillary Montes and Norgay Montes for Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first two humans to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. Image acquired on July 14, 2015 from a 100,000 km range.

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

Posted on 0000-00-00

Rosetta's Final Descent

On September 30, 2016 the Rosetta spacecraft impacted on comet 67P on a site that has been named 'Sais'. Confirmation of the end of the mission arrived at ESA 11:19 UTC with the loss of signal upon impact. The final descent gave Rosetta the opportunity to study the comet's gas, dust and plasma environment very close to its surface, as well as take very high-resolution images.

This image was the last ever taken by Rosetta, about 20 m above the surface. The scale is 2 mm/pixel and the image measures about 96 cm across.

The European Space Agency's Rosetta mission was launched in 2004 and arrived at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Aug. 6, 2014. It is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet and escort it as it orbits the sun. On Nov. 4, 2014, a smaller lander name Philae, which had been deployed from the Rosetta mothership, touched down on the comet and bounced several times before finally alighting on the surface. Philae obtained the first images taken from a comet's surface and sent back valuable scientific data for several days.

ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Posted on 2016-10-05

Detection of Molecular Oxygen

Rosetta has been studying Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for over a year and has detected an abundance of different gases pouring from its nucleus. Water vapour, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are the most prolific, with a rich array of other nitrogen-, sulphur- and carbon-bearing species, and even noble gases also recorded. Rosetta has made the first detection of molecular oxygen at a comet. The results presented in this graphic are based on data collected by the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis Double-Focusing Mass Spectrometer (ROSINA-DFMS) between September 2014 and March 2015 when Rosetta was still on the approach to the Sun along its orbit. High-resolution measurements allowed molecular oxygen (O2) to be distinguished from other species like sulphur (S) and methanol (CH3OH). The detection of the coma gases is stronger closer to the comet nucleus, as expected. The contribution to the detection from contamination from the spacecraft thruster firings during manoeuvres is very low.

ESA/Rosetta/NavCam -- CC BY-SA IGO 3.0; Data: A. Bieler et al. (2015)

Posted on 2015-10-28

Nine days after Perihelion

On 22 August 2015, nine days after perihelion, Rosetta's NAVCAM whitnessed this outburst, about 336 km away from the nucleus. The image measures 29.3 km across with a resolution of 28.6 meters/pixel. The comet reached the closest point to the Sun along its 6.5-year orbit, or perihelion, on 13 August 2015. Its activity, at its peak intensity around perihelion and in the weeks to follow, is clearly visible in the image, including a significant outburst. In this view, the comet is oriented with the large lobe up, revealing the Imhotep region as well as parts of Ash to the left, Aten at the center (close to the edge and partly in shade), and Khepry to the right. The outburst seems to originate from a patch of the comet's surface between Imhotep and Khepry. The smaller lobe can be seen in the lower right part of the image, where indications of the ongoing activity over much of the comet can also be seen.

ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM - CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Posted on 2015-08-29

Comet Outburst Captured

On July 29, 2015, 13:24 GMT, ESA's Rosetta spacecraft captured an outburst on comet 67P as it is about to reach its August-13-perihelion, the closest flyby distance to the sun (186 million km during the 6.5-years orbital period. This image was taken from a distance of 186 km from the center of the comet and shows a jet emerging from the side of the comet's neck, brighter than the nucleus and traveling at an estimated minimum velocity of 10 meters per second. The jet had the power to push away incoming solar wind magnetic field from around the nucleus. During the outburst Rosetta's spectrometer recorded a consequent increase of carbon by the factor of two, methane by four and hydrogen sulfide by seven, however, the amount of water stayed almost unchanged. Sudden outbursts can occur at any time as the comet's general activity is expected to peak in the weeks following perihelion.

ESA/Rosetta/MPS

Posted on 2015-08-12

Comet from 9 Meters

This image was taken by Philae's Rosetta Lander Imaging System, ROLIS 9 m above the Agilkia landing site on the small lobe of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The image was acquired at 15:33:58 GMT on 12 November 2014. The image measures 9.7 m across and the image scale is 0.95 cm/pixel. Part of Philae's landing gear can be seen in the top corners. This detailed image reveals the granular texture of the comet's surface down to the cm scale, with fragments of material of diverse shapes and random orientations seen in clusters or alone. The regolith in this region is thought to extend to a depth of 2 m in places, but seems to be free from very fine-grained dust deposits at the resolution of the images.

ESA/Rosetta/Philae/ROLIS/DLR

Posted on 2015-07-30

Comet Activity

On 13 August, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko will reach perihelion - a moment that defines its closest point to the Sun along its orbit, for 67P at a distance of about 185 million km from the Sun, between the orbits of Earth and Mars. As the comet continues to move closer to the Sun, warming continues and activity rises, and pressure from the solar wind causes some of the materials to stream out into long tails, one made of gas, the other of dust. The comet's coma will eventually span tens of thousands of kilometers, while the tails may extend hundreds of thousands of kilometres, and both will be visible through large telescopes on Earth. This spectacular montage of 18 images shows off the comet's activity from many different angles as seen between 31 January (top left) and 25 March (bottom right), when the spacecraft was at distances of about 30 to 100 km from the comet. At the same time, the comet was at distances between 363 million and 300 million km from the Sun.

ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM - CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Posted on 2015-07-26

Comet Develops Coma & Tail

This single frame Rosetta navigation camera image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was taken on 14 July 2015 from a distance of 161 km from the comet centre. The image has a resolution of 13.7 m/pixel and measures 14 km across. Comets are known to be made of dust and frozen ices. As these ices are warmed by the Sun, they turn directly to vapour, with the gases dragging the comet's dust along with it. Together, the gas and dust create a fuzzy atmosphere, or coma, and often-spectacular tails extend tens or hundreds of thousands of kilometres into space. While ground-based observations can monitor the development of the coma and tail from afar, Rosetta has a ringside seat for studying the source of this activity directly from the nucleus. One important aspect of Rosetta's long-term study is watching how the activity waxes and wanes along the comet's orbit.

ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM - CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Posted on 2015-07-26

Rosetta Self-Portrait

Using the CIVA camera on Rosetta's Philae lander, the spacecraft have snapped a self-portrait at comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from a distance of about 16 km from the surface of the comet. The image was taken on 7 October and captures the side of the Rosetta spacecraft and one of Rosetta's 14 m-long solar wings, with the comet in the background. Two images with different exposure times were combined to bring out the faint details in this very high contrast situation. The comet's active 'neck' region is clearly visible, with streams of dust and gas extending away from the surface. The 7 October portrait is the last image from Philae before the lander separated from Rosetta on 12 November.

ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

Posted on 2014-10-14

Philae Camera Captures Mars

On 25 February 2007 at 02:15 GMT, Rosetta passed just 250 km from the surface of Mars. Rosetta's Philae lander took this image 4 minutes before closest approach, at a distance of 1000 km. It captures one of Rosetta's 14 m-long solar wings, set against the northern hemisphere of Mars, where details in the Mawrth Vallis region can be seen. Mawrth Vallis is particularly relevant as it is one of the areas on the Martian surface where the OMEGA instrument on board ESA's Mars Express detected the presence of hydrated clay minerals - a sign that water may have flown abundantly on that region in the very early history of Mars. This image was originally published in 2007 and was taken in black-and-white. Representative colour was added to the surface of Mars and, in this version, these colours have been slightly enhanced, along with some brightening of details in the solar wing.

ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

Posted on 2007-02-25