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Wednesday, 13 May 2015

New Horizons begins to see Pluto, and ISS videos....

This week is turning out to be a busy one, not that my fellow space nerds and I are complaining!

Pluto's moons come into view:
As the  New Horizons space probe nears Pluto it's beginning to see features on the surface of the icy dwarf planet, as well as the cluster of  moons that swarm in orbit around it. In the animation  below (from the beginning of the week) the probe was beginning to see the moons Nix and Hydra..... 

Above: A n animation made from images taken by the New Horizons probe, showing the motion of Pluto's moons against the background stars. Courtesy of Fred Bruenjes
 .... a few days later the Moons Syx and Keberos are beginning to be visible as well.

Above: More moons! The space near Pluto is a veritable maze of icy chunks. That's amazing science, but possibly not so good if you're a space probe about to fly through that space at over fifteen kilometres a second
One thing about Pluto and the moons, which has already caught commentators interest, is that they appear to change in brightness. On Pluto itself the New Horizons team are confident this means they are already seeing surface features....

Above: Pluto and Charon (a view taken earlier than the previous ones) showing some surface features on Pluto and the  way that they orbit each other, as Charon's mass is so big compared to Pluto's. It's like when a small granny picks up a big baby and has to hand it to someone else almost immediately because it's pulling her over. Well sort if.
OK, not really then, but a bit. Courtesy of NASA
.... and it might also be an early indication of surface features on the moons, or that the moons have an irregular shape.
“Detecting these tiny moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera and John Spencer’s team of moon and ring hunters,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern.

Elsewhere in the universe:

Yet another cool animation of Ceres:

This time it's the mysterious bright spots....
Above: The brightspots on ceres, courtesy of ZLD of

If you look closely at the above section of Cere's surface you might see that there seems to be some sort of linear feature running under the crater with the bright spots. One theory being advanced is that the impact hit a geological fault line, and created a weakness in the crust through which fluids could seep.

Videos from the ISS:

Life as an ISS crew member seems to be full of adventure and drama (it's a job in space, so that it'd be a lot more surprising if it was on par with a standard office job), from docking private space ships, to searching for dark matter, to out of control space freighters. But the crew also do more mundane, day to day tasks, such as exercising to keep their muscles from wasting away and running the stations many science experiments. Astronaut Samantha Cristoforreti has found time to put together a collection of videos sharing it with us all

 Above: Here's one video, and if you follow the link above you'll see a whole bunch more. Courtesy of ESA.

Samantha may well be making more of these videos than she'd originally planned, as her ride home has been postponed following a malfunction on board a Russian Progress freighter that caused it to burn up in Earth's atmosphere without delivering its cargo.

Elsewhere on the internet:

Stephen Hawking to appear at Glastonbury festival (yes you read that right)

Inflatable aeroplane to explore Venus?

Are mass extinctions linked to Earth's travel through the galaxy?

Does Europa's salty ocean spill onto the surface?

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