Dark-Matter 'Superhighways' of the Cosmos --"Connecting Vast Bubbles Devoid of Galaxies"
"The Dead Galaxies of the Coma Cluster" -One of the Largest Structures in the Universe

NASA Observes Pluto's 'Tail' --"A Complex and Fascinating World"

 

 

6a00d8341bf7f753ef01b7c6f2edd9970b

 

At Friday's press briefing, NASA scientists studying Pluto appeared to be giddy. What they once knew as only a yellowish blob is coming to life as a complex and fascinating world. NASA unveiled more discoveries about Pluto from the data that's begun trickling back after this week's historic fly-by. Scientists who've waited their whole careers for a glimpse of that faraway dwarf planet say they had no idea how complex it would be.

"I'm a little biased, but I think the solar system saved the best for last," said Alan Stern, New Horizon's principal investigator, during Friday a press briefing.

Based at NASA Ames in the Bay Area, geologist Jeff Moore has been picking apart the new images. "I'm still having to remind myself to take deep breaths. I mean the landscape is just astoundingly amazing," Moore said. "We've discovered vast craterless plains with some strange story to tell."

The plains stand in stark contrast to icy mountains the size of the Rockies discovered earlier in the week. The lack of craters means they're young, formed either by movement beneath Pluto's surface, or by erosion.

"Creating kind of the same sorts of patterns you see when you look at the surface of a boiling pot of oatmeal, or like the blobs in a lava lamp," Moore added.

 

Pluto tail

 

As the New Horizons spacecraft drifts farther from Pluto, it's looking back at it to measure its atmosphere. Scientists say the atmosphere is escaping from the dwarf planet's weak gravity. "And so what we see behind Pluto is a tail, an ion tail of this ionized escaping atmosphere that's being pulled away, carried away in the solar wind," said Fran Bagenal, New Horizons' co-investigator.

NASA and the team behind its New Horizons spacecraft announced today that Pluto — the dwarf planet — has a giant tail that's part of Pluto's atmosphere., a frigid cloud of ionized gases trailing an estimated 48,000 to 68,000 miles behind Pluto,  bits of atmosphere are being stripped away by solar wind, a torrent of electrically charged particles that constantly pours out of the sun in all directions.

"We see the atmosphere way far out," Randy Gladstone, a New Horizons co-investigator at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, said during a NASA press conference on Friday. "We see it from the ground out to 1,000 miles above the surface."

Gladstone and others discovered the tail after examining data from the Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument on the New Horizons spacecraft. The device found an anomaly in the solar wind around the dwarf planet: A depression composed of nitrogen ions. This depression is the tail, and it extends an unknown length behind the planet.

"We have actually flown through this [tail]," Fran Bagenal, a New Horizons coinvestigator from the University of Colorado at Boulder, said during the press conference.

Ionized gas forms when a bunch of energy pummels atmospheric atoms and molecules. This bombardment pops electrons off the atmospheric gas particles, allowing their electrons to freely circulate. The end result is plasma: A fourth state of matter after solids, liquids, and gases.

As far as we know, plasma is the most common state of matter in the universe. There's simply a lot of energy pouring out of stars, and a lot of gas in space to form plasma. So while it might seem surprising, plasma tails like Pluto's aren't new. They even exist behind other planets in the solar system, including Venus and Mars.

The team still hasn't determined the precise shape of Pluto's newly discovered tail. They also don't know exactly how the was formed.

NASA is anxiously waiting for New Horizons to beam back more data. By August the team hopes to calculate how fast Pluto is losing its atmosphere to space — and how quickly the icy world is shrinking.

They've discovered wind currents near the surface are mild, around 10 miles an hour, and they'll learn more as the data pours in.

"And we're really looking forward to getting that data in a moth or two, but it's really tantalizing right now and we're able to do science with it," Moore said.

In fact, what scientists have now is merely a preview of what's to come.

"We currently have on the ground less than one of those 50 gigabits," Stern said.

It's been enough to incite the public's imagination. Pluto is social media's newest star.

"I think Pluto's becoming a brand. It sort of sells itself and we don't really have to work all that hard," Stern said.

There is lots of hard work to do as that data trickles in. They hope to learn more about what the ice on Pluto's surface is made of and just how cold it really is. It's been estimated at negative 369 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Daily Galaxy via NASA/New Horizons and BI 

 

Comments

where are all the electric universe cultists claiming this story as vindication of their fantastic vision of a galactic electric current generating thunderbolt cratering spaghetti eating purple plasma god?? see guys?? plasma!! tail!Pluto!! bolt! Plasma Tail,ancient cities on Ceres, electric, Bolt!!! electric Universe!!! hhhahah told you guys the electric universe was like totally true!!!!NASA totally just proved it!!!hahah you guys suck!! Standard model is sooo generation X! Millenials are the new generation, and we support the electric universe cause its anti-establishment, and totally true because people on youtube say so!! viva la revolucion puto's!!!

I believe human kind should learn something from this beautiful Planet Pluto. While some, few but very vocal noones attacked it with all their powers, trying to demote, ridicule, even pretending that all the photos are fake, even if any radio-telescope pointed exactly towards Pluto receives signals and daily photos from the space ship, other expressed their craziness or frustration for not ever discovering anything to be remembered...Plus the percent that are always drunk or drugged LOL (up)... In return Pluto welcomed us with a huge white heart and awesomeness like no other planet did.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)