The National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s New Horizons spacecraft is bound to find some strange new information when it arrives in Pluto’s orbit in three weeks, according to a National Geographic report posted on Friday.
New high-range photos taken by the probe have shown some curious results, including a small mysterious bright spot situated near Pluto’s North Pole, while its moon Charon also has an extremely dark sport. Further observation is also likely to provide more information onto a much discussed giant mountain range that the dwarf planet might have, which would be similar to Saturn’s moon Iapetus in that regard
Recent information observed with a Hubble telescope also showed that Pluto’s smaller moons rotate chaotically and unpredictably around their own axes, while one of them – called Kerberos – is darker than its surrounding sisters. Three of the small moons also have a curious gravitational link between them, adding even more questions to what’s shaping up as one of the most complex systems in the Milky Way.
Pluto has a total of five known moons until now, with Charon being half as large as it, and the four smaller moons – Hydra, Kerberos, Styx and Nix – being all discovered during the last decade. One of the more discussed theories regarding the creation of the small moons would a very distant collision between Pluto and Charon – which both planets survived, but also left a massive amount of debris floating through space.
NASA researchers though think that they might even find more moons when New Horizons enters the system and offers more relevant imagery. They would probably be very small, as not to be observed by the Hubble telescope which spotted the previous four. The question some researchers put emphasis in is whether there is enough space in the already crowded system to host even more celestial bodies.
Charon’s dark spot will also be a point of focus for the New Horizons team. The slightly darker spot has been observed in photos taken by the spacecraft in the last few months and has proved an enigma for researchers, which is unlikely to be solved until researchers get better imagery.
The New Horizons spacecraft launched more than 9 and a half years ago, in January 2006 from Cape Canaveral, and after checking out Jupiter in 2007 was put onto standby mode for its journey towards Pluto to preserve its systems. The probe was fully reactivated last December and is expected to arrive in Pluto’s orbit on July 14th.
Image Source: NASA