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  • News in Brief

    Charon’s surface cracked when ancient subsurface sea froze

    Pluto’s largest moon Charon is busting at the seams, and an ancient subsurface ocean might be to blame.

    Ridges and valleys more than 6 kilometers deep, seen during the July 14 flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft (SN: 12/26/15, p. 16), suggest that the moon swelled at some point in its past. The rifts could have been carved by an ocean that froze and expanded, tearing apart the satellite...

    02/25/2016 - 16:11 Planetary Science
  • Feature

    Year in review: Pluto unveiled as a world like no other

    View the video

    Mountains of water ice tower thousands of meters over fields of frozen nitrogen and methane. Glaciers etched with channels hint at heat bubbling up from below. A patchwork of new and old terrains — some laid down in the last 10 million years, some as old as the planet itself — blanket the ground. And what appear to be two ice volcanoes punch through the terrain.

    ...
    12/15/2015 - 07:05 Planetary Science
  • Science Ticker

    Impact from a space rock might have formed Pluto’s heart

    OXON HILL, Md. — Pluto’s got a roughly 4-billion-year-old case of heartbreak. The left side of the dwarf planet’s infamous heart-shaped feature might owe its existence to a run-in with a big space rock, planetary scientist Paul Schenk reported November 10 at the 47th meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

    The area, informally called Sputnik Planum...

    11/10/2015 - 16:08 Planetary Science
  • News

    Pluto continues to deliver surprises

    OXON HILL, Md. — At this point, the only thing unsurprising about Pluto is that it continues to offer up surprises.

    A wide variety of landscapes, ongoing surface transformations and a family of wildly spinning moons are among the riddles reported by the New Horizons mission team November 9 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

    “Pluto...

    11/09/2015 - 17:54 Planetary Science
  • Science Ticker

    Course set for New Horizons journey to Kuiper belt object

    With Pluto checked off its bucket list, New Horizons is now speeding along to its next stop.

    On November 4, the spacecraft completed the last of four engine burns designed to point it toward 2014 MU69, a primordial ball of ice deep in the Kuiper belt, the ring of frozen debris that stretches beyond Neptune.

    With just 1.45 billion kilometers to go, New Horizons will zip past MU69 on...

    11/05/2015 - 07:43 Planetary Science
  • News

    Pluto’s smaller moons pose mysteries

    Pluto and Charon might have been the stars of the New Horizons mission, but the dwarf planet’s four smaller moons have some surprises to share as well.

    With images of Kerberos transmitted from the spacecraft on October 20, the Pluto family portrait is complete. The tiny moons Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx are no longer pinpricks of light but textured, misshapen balls of ice that look...

    11/02/2015 - 06:00 Planetary Science
  • Science Ticker

    Five surprising discoveries about Pluto

    Upon further review, Pluto is still mysterious and exciting.

    After three months of releasing photos and data piecemeal, scientists with NASA’s New Horizons mission codified their preliminary observations of Pluto and three of its moons in the Oct. 16 Science. Here are five key (though not necessarily brand-spanking new) findings in the paper that epitomize the surprising complexity of...

    10/15/2015 - 14:00 Planetary Science
  • Science Ticker

    New Pluto photos show unprecedented detail

    Looks like it was worth the wait. Over the weekend, the New Horizons spacecraft began beaming all its data back to Earth. The first result, released September 10, is a stunning, crisp mosaic of Pluto from the spacecraft’s visit on July 14 as well as a closer look at the dwarf planet’s largest moon, Charon.

    Nitrogen ice flows, valley networks, mountain ranges and possibly even dunes...

    09/10/2015 - 16:31 Planetary Science
  • Science Ticker

    Life after Pluto: New Horizons to head for Kuiper belt boulder

    With Pluto receding in the rear view mirror, New Horizons now has its sights set on a second target. Pending final approval by NASA, an icy boulder dubbed 2014 MU69 — over 1 billion kilometers beyond Pluto — will be graced by the spacecraft’s presence on January 1, 2019, space agency officials announced August 28.

    The next stop lives deep in the Kuiper belt, a ring of frozen debris past...

    08/28/2015 - 19:20 Planetary Science
  • News

    Pluto’s icy landscape comes into view

    LAUREL, Md. — Alan Stern, head of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, had just three words for the team of scientists and engineers assembled with him on July 14: “We did it.”

    At 8:52:37 p.m. Eastern time, a radio antenna near Madrid received the first signal from the spacecraft since it buzzed the dwarf planet. After decades of planning and a 9.5-year journey...

    07/26/2015 - 06:00 Planetary Science