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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.

(with inputs from IANS )

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Chandra Observatory By NASA Back in Action

Scientists are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options were available to recover the gyro to operational performance

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NASA's Chandra Observatory back in action. Pixabay

NASA Chandra X-Ray Observatory, observing the universe in high-energy light since 1999, is back in action after suffering a glitch due to the failure of the gyroscope and going into safe mode last week.

The cause of Chandra’s safe mode on October 10 has now been understood and the Operations team has successfully returned the spacecraft to its normal pointing mode, according to the US space agency.

“The safe mode was caused by a glitch in one of Chandra’s gyroscopes resulting in a 3-second period of bad data that, in turn, led the on-board computer to calculate an incorrect value for the spacecraft momentum. The erroneous momentum indication then triggered the safe mode,” NASA said in a statement late on Monday.

The team has completed plans to switch gyroscopes and place the gyroscope that experienced the glitch in reserve.

Once configured with a series of pre-tested flight software patches, the team will return Chandra to science operations which are expected to commence by the end of this week, NASA said.

On October 10, Chandra X-ray Observatory entered safe mode, in which the observatory is put into a safe configuration, critical hardware is swapped to back-up units, the spacecraft points so that the solar panels get maximum sunlight, and the mirrors point away from the Sun.

Chandra is 19 years old, which is well beyond the original design lifetime of five years. In 2001, NASA extended its lifetime to 10 years.

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since March 2015, is also nearly out of fuel and might run out as early as October. Flickr

The US space agency said that it was also continuing to work towards resuming science operations of the Hubble Space Telescope that on October 5, entered safe mode after one of the three gyroscopes (gyros) being used to point and steady the telescope failed.

Gyroscopes help spacecraft maintain proper orientation.

Scientists are currently performing analyses and tests to determine what options were available to recover the gyro to operational performance.

Till that time, science operations with Hubble have been suspended.

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Besides Chandra and Hubble, NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is also almost out of fuel. Kepler has found about 70 per cent of all known alien worlds to date.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres since March 2015, is also nearly out of fuel and might run out as early as October.

The space agency’s Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity too have faced issues of late. (IANS)

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