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Latest Pluto surface images baffle scientists

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By NewsGram Staff Writer

Washington: Pluto’s lattest sharp images have revealed perplexed variety of surface features that has left scientific community baffled because of their complexity and range.pluto

Taken from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, the images reveal new features as diverse as possible dunes, nitrogen ice flows that apparently oozed out of mountainous regions onto plains, and even networks of valleys that may have been carved by material flowing over Pluto’s surface.

“Pluto is showing us a diversity of land forms and complexity of processes that rival anything we have seen in the solar system,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.

New Horizons has begun its year-long download of new images and other data.

They show large regions that display chaotically jumbled mountains reminiscent of disrupted terrains on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.

“The surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars,” added Jeff Moore from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

The randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of hard water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen within the region informally named Sputnik Planum, he explained.

New images also show the most heavily cratered — and thus oldest — terrain yet seen by New Horizons on Pluto next to the youngest, most crater-free icy plains.

There might even be a field of dark wind-blown dunes, among other possibilities.

“Seeing dunes on Pluto — if that is what they are — would be completely wild, because Pluto’s atmosphere today is so thin,” noted William B. McKinnon from Washington University-St Louis.

Images returned in the past days have also revealed that Pluto’s global atmospheric haze has many more layers than scientists realized.

The haze actually creates a twilight effect that softly illuminates night-side terrain near sunset, making them visible to the cameras aboard New Horizons.

The New Horizons spacecraft is now more than five billion kms from Earth and more than 69 million kms beyond Pluto.

The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally, NASA reported.

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NASA’s InSight Captures The Sound Of The Martian Wind

InSight landed on Mars on Nov. 26.

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InSight, Mars, NASA, Martian Wind
This Friday, Dec. 7, 2018 photo made available by NASA shows a view from the arm-mounted camera on the InSight Mars lander. The spacecraft arrived on the planet on Nov. 26. VOA

NASA’s new Mars lander has captured the first sounds of the “really unworldly” Martian wind.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory released audio clips of the alien wind Friday. The low-frequency rumblings were collected by the InSight lander during its first week of operations at Mars.

The wind is estimated to be blowing 10 mph to 15 mph (16 kph to 24 kph). These are the first sounds from Mars that are detectable by human ears, according to the researchers.

“Reminds me of sitting outside on a windy summer afternoon … In some sense, this is what it would sound like if you were sitting on the InSight lander on Mars,” Cornell University’s Don Banfield told reporters.

NASA, Insight, Martian Wind
NASA’s InSight spacecraft, destined for the Elysium Planitia region in Mars’ northern hemisphere, undergoes launch preparations at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. VOA

Scientists involved in the project agree the martian wind has an otherworldly quality to it.

Thomas Pike of Imperial College London said the rumbling is “rather different to anything that we’ve experienced on Earth, and I think it just gives us another way of thinking about how far away we are getting these signals.”

The noise is of the wind blowing against InSight’s solar panels and the resulting vibration of the entire spacecraft. The sounds were recorded by an air pressure sensor inside the lander that’s part of a weather station, as well as the seismometer on the deck of the spacecraft.

The low frequencies are a result of Mars’ thin air density and even more so the seismometer itself — it’s meant to detect underground seismic waves, well below the threshold of human hearing. The seismometer will be moved to the Martian surface in the coming weeks; until then, the team plans to record more wind noise.

NASA, Insight, Martian Wind
This is an illustration showing a simulated view of NASA’s InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. This view shows the underside of the spacecraft. VOA

The 1976 Viking landers on Mars picked up spacecraft shaking caused by wind, but it would be a stretch to consider it sound, said InSight’s lead scientist, Bruce Banerdt, of JPL in Pasadena, California.

Also Read: NASA’s InSight Lands Safely On Mars

The “really unworldly” sounds from InSight, meanwhile, have Banerdt imaging he’s “on a planet that’s in some ways like the Earth, but in some ways really alien.”

InSight landed on Mars on Nov. 26.

“We’re all still on a high from the landing last week … and here we are less than two weeks after landing, and we’ve already got some amazing new science,” said NASA’s Lori Glaze, acting director of planetary science. “It’s cool, it’s fun.” (VOA)