Pluto lovers rejoice! Today the NASA New Horizons team released a new set of high resolution images of the surface of Pluto from the LORRI instrument on-board the New Horizons spacecraft. The images are truly breathtaking. The team announced the results over a Google Hangout earlier today. During the hangout Alan Stern, director of the New Horizons mission, said that this marks the start of a data down-link phase which should last about a year. Over the course of the year we will learn more and more about Pluto and its system of moons.
As I watched the live hangout, new images kept posting to their website. Each time I created a mosaic, I noticed more data on the page. It was a lot of fun trying to keep up to work with the data as it was posted in real time.
I for one will be very excited to see the data from the Alice instrument, which is an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer. A very similar instrument is currently flying on the Rosetta spacecraft currently orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Comet 67P is thought to have originated in the Kuiper Belt, the same region of the solar system where Pluto resides. I will be very interested to see how the UV data from Pluto compare to that of 67P. This should tell us a great deal about the origin and evolution of our solar system.
Check out the hangout for the full scoop. It’s definitely worth a watch. I’ve embedded the video below.