Hubble peers closely at Pluto

Pics reveal ice and molasses


NASA has released "the most detailed and dramatic images ever taken of the distant dwarf planet Pluto", captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, which reveal an "icy, mottled, dark molasses-colored world":

Hubble views of Pluto. Pic: NASA

NASA explains that Pluto's overall hue is "believed to be a result of ultraviolet radiation from the distant sun breaking up methane that is present on Pluto's surface, leaving behind a dark and red carbon-rich residue".

The above photos are constructed from multiple snaps taken in 2002 and 2003*, and when compared to Hubble images captured in 1994, show that Pluto's surface has undergone significant "seasonal changes".

NASA explains: "Pluto has become significantly redder, while its illuminated northern hemisphere is getting brighter. These changes are most likely consequences of surface ices sublimating on the sunlit pole and then refreezing on the other pole as the dwarf planet heads into the next phase of its 248-year-long seasonal cycle."

The agency singles out the 180° view as of special interest, since it shows "a mysterious bright spot that is unusually rich in carbon monoxide frost". This is now a "prime target" for the New Horizons flyby in 2015, during which the spacecraft will have a single chance to capture one of Pluto's hemispheres as it whizzes past the dwarf planet.

The Hubble pictures will accordingly aid NASA in picking the best viewpoint for New Horizons, while helping scientists to calculate optimum exposure for the spacecraft's camera.

NASA has more on the new images here. ®

Bootnote

* NASA elaborates: "The Hubble images are a few pixels wide. But through a technique called dithering, multiple, slightly offset pictures can be combined through computer-image processing to synthesize a higher-resolution view than could be seen in a single exposure."

Investigator Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said: "This has taken four years and 20 computers operating continuously and simultaneously to accomplish."

Planetary politics bootnote

NASA describes Pluto as "arguably one of the public's favorite planetary objects". We'd argue that this is only true for some residents of Illinois, who are still hacked off by the International Astronomical Union's 2006 decision to boot the object out of the league of proper planets.

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Amazon warehouse staff granted second chance to vote for unionization

    US labor watchdog tosses previous failed result in the trash

    America's labor watchdog has given workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, another crack at voting for unionization after their first attempt failed earlier this year.

    “It is ordered that the election that commenced on February 8 is set aside, and a new election shall be conducted,” Lisa Henderson, regional director at the National Labor Relations Board, ruled [PDF] on Tuesday.

    “The National Labor Relations Board will conduct a second secret ballot election among the unit employees. Employees will vote whether they wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.”

    Continue reading
  • It's the flu season – FluBot, that is: Surge of info-stealing Android malware detected

    And a bunch of bank-account-raiding trojans also identified

    FluBot, a family of Android malware, is circulating again via SMS messaging, according to authorities in Finland.

    The Nordic country's National Cyber Security Center (NCSC-FI) lately warned that scam messages written in Finnish are being sent in the hope that recipients will click the included link to a website that requests permission to install an application that's malicious.

    "The messages are written in Finnish," the NCSC-FI explained. "They are written without Scandinavian letters (å, ä and ö) and include, for example, the characters +, /, &, % and @ in illogical places in the text to make it more difficult for telecommunications operators to filter the messages. The theme of the text may be that the recipient has received a voicemail message or a message from their mobile operator."

    Continue reading
  • AsmREPL: Wing your way through x86-64 assembly language

    Assemblers unite

    Ruby developer and internet japester Aaron Patterson has published a REPL for 64-bit x86 assembly language, enabling interactive coding in the lowest-level language of all.

    REPL stands for "read-evaluate-print loop", and REPLs were first seen in Lisp development environments such as Lisp Machines. They allow incremental development: programmers can write code on the fly, entering expressions or blocks of code, having them evaluated – executed – immediately, and the results printed out. This was viable because of the way Lisp blurred the lines between interpreted and compiled languages; these days, they're a standard feature of most scripting languages.

    Patterson has previously offered ground-breaking developer productivity enhancements such as an analogue terminal bell and performance-enhancing firmware for the Stack Overflow keyboard. This only has Ctrl, C, and V keys for extra-easy copy-pasting, but Patterson's firmware removes the tedious need to hold control.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021