Today at about 7:50 am EST NASA’s New Horizons probe finally reached its main objective of Pluto after a nine-year journey. It sent back a stunning picture of the dwarf planet and its largest (as far as we know) moon, Charon.
In their reddit AMA today, one NASA scientist stated that the dark spot seen on the pole of Charon in the picture above was one of the most interesting thing they’ve seen in these pictures.
Saying that Charon is Pluto’s little brother in the caption above is only slightly for comedic effect. The current theory is that the two bodies formed from the same material after an impact (much like the leading theory of the formation of Earth’s moon). In fact, they state in the AMA, “Many of us on the team refer to it as the ‘Pluto-Charon system,’ rather than a visit to ‘Pluto and its moon Charon.'”
Charon is not Pluto’s only moon; there are also four more that we currently know about. The scientists are hoping to find out more about all of them as the data comes in.
The reason we are stuck with a sparse two images at this point is that, after taking these two images, New Horizons has gone silent for roughly 22 hours in order to collect more data. If all goes well, we should have more information tomorrow.
Looking at the image of Pluto above, the talk of the internet right now is the large, light-colored, heart-shape terrain feature on the bottom right. However, for my money, the coolest thing about this is that it is a true color image. Or, as close to true color as one can get when the sun is so far away that it appears as little more than an extra-bright star. According to another scientist involved in the AMA, “Yes, we tried to get it as close to real color as possible :). We combine the wavelengths that we have and translate it into what the human eye would see.”
Once New Horizons is finished with its flyby, it will continue on out into the Kuiper Belt–the region of debris beyond Pluto (where most comets originate)–and continue to collect and transmit data “so long as [the instruments] work and the mission is funded.”
What do you think is the most interesting feature from the pictures showed? Are you looking forward to any other data that will be coming back?