February 5, 2010
These new images of Pluto from the Hubble Space Telescope’s are the most detailed ever made of the dwarf planet. They may be a little blurry, but what do you expect when your camera is more than two and a half billion miles from its subject?
NASA aimed the HST at Pluto to get better images of the dwarf planet in preparation for the arrival of the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. New Horizons will provide even better photos starting about six months from when it makes its Pluto flyby. The flyby will be a quick one, though, and New Horizons will get to image only one hemisphere in detail; with so little time, NASA scientists need to plan out their approach to the imaging in advance to get the most out of their brief opportunity.
Pluto is proving to be even more of an oddball object in our solar system than astronomers realized. We already knew of its tilted, elliptical 248-year orbit around the Sun. Repeated imaging of the dwarf planet has now shown that its north pole has brightened and its south pole has darkened over the last few decades. In addition, the planet is getting redder. Astronomers don’t yet know what is causing these changes. Perhaps New Horizons will provide some answers. We’ll just have to wait.
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