Pluto is defying scientists’ expectations [2016/03/31 10:08]

NASA has released five new papers on Pluto, offering a glimpse into the dwarf planet that is more strange and fascinating than scientists ever imagined.

After traveling through the solar system for nine years, the New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to Pluto last July.
Equipped with seven extremely sensitive scientific instruments, it took high-resolution images of Pluto’s surface features, observed its five satellites, monitored its atmosphere and measured its interaction with the solar wind.

So far, the spacecraft has transmitted just 40 percent of the data it collected back to Earth. Scientists said most of it has defied their expectations.

“The big surprise is that Pluto turned out so surprising,” a researcher of NASA said about Pluto.

The five new groundbreaking papers on the dwarf planet were published in the journal Science on March 17. The papers outlined the discoveries they made about the planet from data sent by the New Horizons.

When they sent the space probe on its 5-billion-kilometer mission Jan. 19, 2006, NASA had no idea about the variety of terrain and geological activity on Pluto’s surface.

Thanks to the probe, NASA scientists discovered everything from flat plains to mountain ranges, and underground oceans to ice volcanoes. There was even the discovery of a hazy-blue atmosphere, faintly reminiscent of Earth.

In addition, fascinating discoveries were made about Pluto’s moons as well. Charon, the largest, was seen to have a complex and intriguing terrain. And Pluto’s four smaller moons were found to have unprecedented orbits and rotations.
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