A Long Amazing Stretch of Pluto

I still cannot believe Pluto has this much variance in it’s geology. I truly expected New Horizons to arrive and find something more like Dione. No disrespect intended to one of Saturn’s own, but you don’t want to travel nearly 10 years to uncover a frozen and cratered dirty snowball. Even while Hubble was hinting at something amazing before we finally arrived, I still expected to be underwhelmed.

New Horizons has revealed one of the most diverse bodies in our Solar System which presents an intriguing mystery. How does an object so far from the warmth of the sun, and too small to generate it’s own internal heat manage to create floating mountains, smooth icy plains and truly wild textures that we are used to seeing on small bodies orbiting too close to giant planets?

Even more exciting… we now know that size and distance may not matter as much as we had thought. All of the other Dwarf Planets in the Kuiper Belt may each be just as amazing as Pluto has been revealed to be. When do we start planning for a New Horizons 2 visit to Eris?

Cyber Tuesday Spaceprobe Deal

For two days only, buy one of our limited edition Robotic Spacecraft Series Prints and get the full suite of vinyl stickers for free. This is a total savings of $24 and would serve as a great stocking stuffer to follow the presentation of the print.

Pluto: Sending Geophysicists Back to Drawing Boards

I have never seen anything like this. What we are seeing are many different kinds of materials in two image frames (mosaic by Emily Lakdawalla). The shiniest textures seen here are more than likely water ice, the darker material may be tholins (a theoretical substance predicted by Carl Sagan himself) and frozen carbon monoxide — but we don’t know for sure.

Thus far, Pluto is so unexpected and so many times more exotic than I would have ever guessed.

WOW

Shown above is an early best guess at Pluto’s actual colors. The “color” image that has saturated all forms of media is actually just a monochrome with the colors seen earlier in the mission laid over it. So that is really just an artificial duotone. Shown above is a gorgeous color image with best-guesses at Pluto’s true colors based upon chemical maps made by New Horizons.

New Horizons’ Encounter Looking Epic

The images coming back so far from Pluto look incredible. For the first time since Voyager uncovered exactly how exotic the moons of Jupiter really were — we are seeing things at Pluto that few saw coming. Some images show Pluto looking like a real-life version of a sci-fi illustration from the 1960s, with all kinds of lines, circles and spots of which we still know very little about.

Shown above is the Chop Shop Studio poster celebrating New Horizons at Pluto and is being updated almost every day when new images are released from the mission. This is the third update from July 11 data. The design along with two other missions is being crowd-funded on Kickstarter right now and you can still vote on which missions make the cut for posters #8 and #9.

The Man in the… Pluto

Pluto is starting to reveal it’s face.

This is the last visit of this kind for the forseeable future. Apart from a few of the other larger Kuiper Belt objects, this is the only planned exploration of a major body in our solar system left that has never been seen by human eyes before. Every planet, all the major moons and the most significant asteroids have all been revealed if not globally mapped. There would have to be a new mission planned to Eris, Makemake or to one of the other Kuipers to see something like this again. Even if a mission like that was approved, it would be years of development plus another 10 year slog before arriving at such distant targets.

It is worth noting that as soon as 2017, New Horizons is expected to make another flyby of a much smaller Kuiper Belt object and then again in 2019 — with a possibility of a third if one can be found. So even after Pluto is over… there will still be a few encores.

Kickstarter Project Coming Oct 2

Our new Kickstarter campaign will be live in a few days. Above are a few of the celestial assets illustrated for the animation/video we are producing for the campaign page.

Nobody Expected Pluto to be This Active

Recent Hubble images of Pluto are showing us a world that may be unexpectedly active on the surface. Such a small object so far away that takes so very long to revolve around the sun should not have very many ways to exercise such rapid changes upon its surface. Scientists studying Pluto say that the color shape shifting seen in just two years is shockingly dramatic and they know these changes are not some image artifact as  Charon (Pluto’s dwarf planet partner) remains unchanged during the same period. Plainly, there is something happening on Pluto that is not taking place on another nearby body.

I expected the arrival of New Horizons at Pluto in 2015 to reveal to us another grey frozen cratered world, but instead… the encounter looks like it might be quite a bit more exciting than expected. I cannot wait to see this black, orange and active world up-close and hopefully New Horizons will also reveal to us what processes could possibly be causing such changes to take place. See Centauri Dreams for more.

Ross Berens Ruins My Dreams

I had really always thought it would be so cool to do a poster set with great design for each of the planets. I actually started a design for the Cassini at Saturn mission, but have yet to complete it. Sure enough someone comes along and knocks the whole system out in one fantastic series. Beat me to it!

The funny thing about doing the whole Solar System is that you will not likely have too many takers for Uranus or even Pluto. But the design on some of these makes it pretty tempting to grab just for the overall design. I can’t wait to email Ross when New Horizons gets to Pluto and it looks nothing like what is shown here. A gorgeous inclusion of the hypothetical ring some expect to find when we get there, but where are the 3 moons?

I would be a fool to not include Saturn. The exclusion of the Galileans at Jupiter, no Charon on the Pluto poster and the absence of Titan here on the Saturn poster... I wonder if I sense a moon series coming? Put me down for a copy of Io.

Wallpaper: Pluto/Charon Family Portrait

Wallpaper: Pluto and CharonJust for old times sake, I made the effort to post some kind of imagery of Pluto to complete the “classic” planetary set most of us have grown up with. For years scientists have pressed NASA to prioritize a mission to the only planet left in the solar system that has yet to be visited by any kind spacecraft and finally one was approved. Lucky for Pluto (and us) that the New Horizons mission was launched in January and is on its way to a rendezvous with Pluto in 2015. In a strange turn of events (only a few short months after launch) Pluto was demoted from planetary status to dwarf planet status… which politically may have nixed the entire mission as I am sure some of the budget hawks that make these kinds of decisions were convinced of the mission's importance by others stressing that it was the sole unvisited planet in the solar system. However, now scientists are excited that a new mission is already on its way to visit a whole new class of planetary bodies for the first time. This mission also expects to be able to re-route New Horizons to rendezvous with additional kuiper-belt objects after its initial Pluto mission. These targets have yet to be announced as scientists expect that some of these targets may not have even been discovered as of this time. Imagine how exciting it will be for the discoverer of a new planetary body to find out that there is already a mission on its way to explore the newly discovered object.