The New Horizons probe has sent back a trove of data, over a year after it amazed the world by sending pictures of Pluto to Earth for the first time and inspired hundreds of memes, mainly surrounding the heart shaped feature called the Tombaugh Regio. After being studied it is believed now that Pluto has clouds. There had been early indication of light haze however now they have direct evidence. Unfortunately this isn’t the same as the atmosphere of the other planets in the Solar System because they were floating fairly low and only occur when the temperature is favorable enough. The sad part is that they can’t confirm it just from the satellite data and will have to be patient and wait for a new mission.
Another find was that the western part of the heart area, called the Sputnik Planum, had areas that were among the brightest in the solar system. This was likely to come from the sheer amount of nitrogen ice present on the plain, creating a colossal glacier. Another interesting feature that wasn’t talked about was the Whale; a whale shaped reddish region pushing into the bottom left-hand portion of the Heart. The color is believed to be the result of a tar spread across the surface. However, what people may not know is that the region is called, and I swear I’m not making it up, the Cthulhu Regio. While not official yet it can be submitted for official recognition and I am pulling for it since it’ll open the gate for Superman’s Peak, The Batcave, Deadpool’s DeadCrib and really anything. So moving on.
After leaving Pluto New Horizons was directed toward KBO 2014 MU69, an object in a region of the Kuiper Belt considered the classical region. However parts of the belt are unstable and it’s mainly Neptune’s fault. You see objects in this belt are easily affected by Neptune’s gravity and every orbit it can have profound impacts on the regions. The belt lies 30-55 AU (Astronomical Unit or the average Sun to earth distance) from the Sun and each AU can be affected differently. Some objects get thrown into the Inner Solar System, or the Sun to Mars, and some are pushed into the Scattered Disc, a sparse region of objects in a large range of eccentricities, inclinations and perhelia which means they’re all over the place. Directly past this region is considered interstellar space. But the objects in the classical zone, they are considered the oldest materials in the solar system, carefully preserved by the luck of the draw.
When New Horizons passes by its mission will be surveying its surface, checking if anything is in orbit around it and looking at its mass and temperature. It will also study the varying compositions of the substances present within the Kuiper Belt to gain a better understanding of what is present there. A side mission is to hopefully view and even photograph objects along its path to further visualize more objects within the belt close up and identify future targets. The hopeful date of arrival will be New Year’s 2019 so it should make for an interesting day.
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