Days before NASA New Horizon’s spacecraft is ready for the spacecraft’s flyby of Pluto (on July 14th), and NASA scientists have already revealed a new map of Pluto this Tuesday. Researchers became intrigued when New Horizons spacecraft sent back data that shows mysterious whale and doughnut life formations.
The craft has been in the solar system since January 2006 and has been heading toward the one out of the five known moons of the dwarf planet. Pluto’s primary moon is called Charon. Initially New Horizon journeyed to Pluto in hibernation; it took 9 years and 3 billion miles for it to get near Pluto. NASA scientists revived the spacecraft in January and began collecting its data. The spacecraft will make its closest approach to the icy dwarf planet flying within 7,750 miles, inside the orbit of Charon, at 7:49 a.m. ET July 14.
The new map of Pluto reveals an elongated dark area that researches have informally named the whale, the are is 1,900 miles long, there is bright area on the east side of it and scientists have a theory that it might contain fresh deposits of frost.
The informal name for the doughnut shaped spot was given to a bright area west of the whale’s tail, which looks like an impact crater or volcano. As the scientists receiver more visuals from the spacecraft they will be able to determine what it is.
“We’re at the ‘man in the moon’ stage of viewing Pluto,” John Spencer
John Spencer who is the deputy leader of the geology, geophysics and imaging team at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said Tuesday in a press release that its very easy to associate and imagine seeing familiar shapes in a the pictures of light and dark features but right now its too early to determine what these features really are.
Images captured by using the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, along with lower-resolution color data from New Horizon’s Ralph instrument, across a period lasting from June 27th to July 3rd, were used to form the new map.
However on Saturday the scientists were very upset when the spacecraft suffered a computer malfunction. NASA said in a statement that it is very pleased with its mission team on how quickly they identified the problem and were able to fix it.
An unknown glitch occurred which caused New Horizons to switch to its backup computers and an 81-minute radio silence occurred. All communication was lost with mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
The icy Pluto still being several miles, the lost data wasn’t as much as a problem, the top priority was recovering the spacecraft, stated principal scientist Alan Stern.
Stern added that although they wish the malfunction had not occurred, it was just a speed bump in terms of the total return scientists are expecting from this mission. Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, with their surface appearances, are already intriguing scientists.
Scientists have successfully programmed the spacecraft to reboot itself in the case of a malfunction occurring and it will be able to resume tasks without the Mission Control at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, having to intervene. However they are not expecting the glitch to happen again because the problem was due to the computer being overloaded.
NASA’s New Horizon cost $700 million and was launched in Cape Canaveral, Fla.