Why the Dark Spots on Pluto?

A sharpened view of one hemisphere of Pluto as seen by New Horizons. Courtesy NASA/New Horizons/JHU-APL

What’s at Work on this Distant Planet?
As Pluto comes into sharper focus through the eyes of New Horizons, we’re seeing more definition of the dark and light areas on this distant world. The lighter areas are very likely ice patches, but the dark ones are more intriguing. The most interesting image THIS week, shows four distinct markings that look like craters, or mountains, or… something on one side of the planet. What could be causing these dark markings?
Think about this: Pluto is covered with ices — water, nitrogen, and methane. That means it’s a cold place, indeed. At a surface … Continue reading

MORE of Pluto in the Arts

Tommy Shaw, Todd Sucherman and Lawrence Gowen of the band Styx pose for a picture with members of the New Horizons science team, Wednesday, July 1, 2015 at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.  Members of the band Styx visited with New Horizons team members and Mark Showalter, who discovered Pluto's fifth moon, Styx, in July of 2012.   Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

STEM, STEAM, and PLUTO, continued…
The other day I posted in an article called STEM, STEAM, and Pluto, about how artists and musicians are showing a little Pluto love in their work. Just yesterday, the New Horizons team had a visit from the great band Styx, which is only appropriate since the name of one of Pluto’s moons is Styx. They had some major hits, including the song “Come Sail Away”, which was a theme song for many of us in planetariums where laser shows played. I hadn’t listened to that piece for a long time, so yesterday, I pulled it … Continue reading

The Two Very Different Sides of Pluto

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Color Images Show Amazing Features
Just when you thought Pluto couldn’t surprise you more, here come images of its two hemispheres, showing very different landscape markings. The image on the left is what New Horizons will see first during the encounter, and it seems to have a good mix of dark and light features on the surface.
That image on the right, though — whoa! What looks  like four evenly-spaced “somethings” along the limb (which is the equator). And a sort of dark crescent up above that? Craters? Hills? Canyons? What could they be? The answer to that will be tantalizing the … Continue reading

It’s the Pits On Comet 67P

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From Sinkholes to Jets
It’s quite a week for solar system exploration news. Pluto (which is way more than a planet!) continues to be on everybody’s mind with the upcoming close flyby of the New Horizons mission.  Dwarf planet Ceres is still getting the once-over from Dawn. And, today we’re starting to get more high-resolution images from the Rosetta mission’s OSIRIS camera as it scans Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  Check out this latest image, showing sinkholes and pits on the surface. It’s more than likely they play an important role in creating the jets of dust we see flowing away from the nucleus. A number … Continue reading