What did NASA’s New Horizons discover around Pluto?


In 2015, there was a huge excitement in the
space community. That is because up until then, the best image
we had of the Pluto system was this. Hubble also squinted its lens at Pluto, but
it is so small and distant, the best it could see was a few blobs of colour variation. But in 2015, this all changed. That is because after a nine year journey,
the New Horizons space probe flew by the dwarf planet, giving us a detail and fidelity of
Pluto and its moons like we had never seen before. So the question is, what did the New Horizons
probe see and discover during its flyby of the Pluto system? I’m Alex McColgan, and you’re watching
Astrum. Stick with me in this video and I will show
you all the highlights from the New Horizons mission to Pluto. Pluto was the last of the traditional 9 planets
to be explored. This was due to its distance from us, but
also because – can you believe this – it wasn’t considered a very interesting celestial
object. Thankfully, the New Horizon’s team pushed
hard for this mission to be approved, and in 2006, New Horizons launched as part of
NASA’s New Frontier’s program, for medium budget space missions. The goal of the mission was to get to Pluto
as soon as possible, and as such, New Horizons was the fastest launch ever, it being a light
spacecraft on the most powerful rocket of the time – the Atlas V. It whizzed past
the moon in only 9 hours. The Apollo missions took 10 times as long. On its way to Pluto, it used Jupiter as a
gravity assist which shaved 3 years off the arrival time. It also used Jupiter as a trial run for its
systems, taking some remarkable videos and images of the planet and its moons. After this successful trial, New Horizons
went into hibernation mode to prevent wear and tear of its instruments. Leading up to its approach in 2015, the team
turned the systems back online, and every day the spacecraft sent back images of the
Pluto system. This was an incredibly exciting time for enthusiasts
following the story. We began to get hints of what Pluto could
possibly look like, and saw how different Pluto was from its biggest moon, Charon. Every day, the resolution got higher and higher,
and more details could be made out. Yes, there were other scientific goals for
the mission, but the most interesting thing to me was what it looked like. Soon there could be seen what looked to be
a heart shape on the dwarf planet! On the 14th July, the New Horizons probe made
its closest approach, at only 12,500 km from the surface of Pluto. However, mission controllers didn’t get
a look straight away. Firstly, the probe was too busy taking a lot
of photos during the flyby to send any back immediately. Once data transfer commenced, they had to
deal with the slow uplink speed of only 1kbit/sec. Further to that, there was a 4.5 hour latency
between the spacecraft and the Earth. But what it saw and sent back was spectacular:
mountain ranges, ice plains, glaciers and an atmosphere. It also had a good look at some of Pluto’s
moons. Let’s go into detail about what it actually
discovered during this flyby. One of the first things observed about the
Pluto is its unusual relationship with its moons. For a start, Pluto’s biggest moon, Charon,
orbits very closely to Pluto, and is also very big in comparison. This means that the barycentre of the two
objects, or in other words, their centre of mass, is outside of the primary object. They actually both orbit around a point in
space. Not only that, but both objects are tidally
locked to each other. This means if you stand on one, the other
won’t move from that point in the sky. This is very unusual because while some moons
are tidally locked to their parent planet, the planet is not also tidally locked to the
moon. Charon is very different visually from Pluto
being much darker. This implies they are not from the same origin. The rest of Pluto’s moons are very small,
only being a few kms across. Their orbits are exceptionally circular and
are all coplanar with Pluto’s orbit. The geology of Pluto is very interesting. The biggest visible feature on Pluto is this
giant heart shape, which wowed the world when it first came into view. It has since been named Sputnik Planitia. It is the size of Texas, and it has a strong
colour contrast to the surrounding area. This is because it is a giant ice plain. In fact, during the flyby, it was confirmed
that 98% of Pluto’s surface is comprised of nitrogen ice. On average, the temperature on the surface
of Pluto is -229c, which means water ice would be rigid and brittle. On the other hand, nitrogen ices at this temperature
act like water ice on Earth, meaning it can flow as glaciers. This can especially be seen around the edge
of the heart, glaciers flowing into the gaps around the craters and mountain ranges. The ice plains themselves have giant polygon
shapes across the entire area. There also are no craters, which means it
must be a relatively new feature, or a feature that is being continually renewed. It is perhaps only 10 million years old. The polygonal cells show ridges on them which
are likely caused by sublimation, the process of an ice turning directly into a gas. Although it’s not known for certain, Sputnik
Planitia could have formed from an impact, and ices filled the crater in from a potential
subsurface liquid ocean. This filled in basin actually causes a positive
gravitational anomaly. A gravitational anomaly is where the gravity
at one point is different from elsewhere on the object. The ice plain is directly facing away from
Charon, which would align it up with the objects’ tidal axis. Due to the short distance between Pluto and
Charon, tidal effects are very strong on both objects. This could be the reason why Pluto is tidally
locked to Charon and the two objects can’t look away from each other. Surrounding the ice plains are vast mountain
ranges made of water ice, which, when viewed from the side on, look spectacular. Water ice is the only type of ice detected
on Pluto that would be strong enough to support heights of several kilometres at this temperature. Among the mountains found on Pluto, there
might also be some which are cryovolcanoes, one of the most likely candidates being Wright
Mons. It is 4 kms tall, one of the highest peaks
on Pluto, and a big depression is found in the centre. Cryovolcanoes could be a contributing factor
for Pluto’s young surface. Another obvious feature of Pluto is the dark
material that seems to be sprinkled on the surface in some areas. The biggest such area is called Cthulhu Macula. It is weirdly reminiscent of a whale in shape,
as can be seen in this image. The dark colour is thought to be a deposit
of tholins, a kind of tar made up of hydrocarbons that have interacted with sunlight. Similar deposits can be seen on one of Saturn’s
moons, Iapetus, so the process has been seen elsewhere in the solar system. The region on Pluto is much more heavily cratered
than the heart, which implies the surface there is much older. Mountain ranges can be seen in the middle
of Cthulhu Macula, topped with what is thought to be methane ices. Methane apparently condenses as frost at higher
altitudes on Pluto. The last surface feature I will mention here
is this region called Tartarus Dorsa. It is an extensive, highly distinctive set
of 500-meter-high mountains that resembles snakeskin or tree bark. They are thought to be Penitentes. If that is true, Pluto is the only place in
our solar system other than Earth where they have been observed. Even on Earth they are very rare, but some
can be found in the Atacama desert and other dry, high altitude regions. The ones on Pluto are much taller and cover
a much vaster area than on Earth. We can only imagine what they look like close
up. For me, the most impressive discovery that
New Horizons was able to confirm was that Pluto has an atmosphere. And not only that, but the images are incredible. Due to Pluto’s small size and weak gravity,
the atmosphere appears to extend high above the surface of Pluto. Earth’s atmosphere, while being much more
massive and dense compared to Pluto, hugs the planets comparatively tightly as the gravity
is a lot stronger. The atmospheric pressure on Pluto is exceptionally
low, however, roughly 10 microbars, or 100,000 – 1,000,000 times weaker than the surface
pressure on Earth. It is theorised that the pressure could increase
to as much as 18 to 280 millibars, three times the surface pressure on Mars and a quarter
of the surface pressure on Earth, if the temperature was to rise and the surface ices would sublime
into gases, the process which we’ve seen in the ice plains. The last time Pluto was thought to have this
atmospheric density was 900,000 years ago. At this pressure and temperature, the conditions
could even be right for liquid nitrogen to form on Pluto’s surface. Some evidence of this might be found here,
in what appears to be a frozen over lake. At any rate, within just one year, Pluto’s
atmospheric density can vary by a factor of four due to seasonal variations. That is a massive contrast compared to other
solar system objects with atmospheres, which generally stay pretty consistent. The atmosphere consists of the same ices found
condensed on the surface, namely nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide. The other fascinating discovery New Horizons
made about the atmosphere is that it has up to 20 haze layers. Haze layers themselves were not unexpected,
but the amount of them was. They can clearly be seen in some of these
images, acting like layers of a thin kind of fog. Sunlight can be seen streaming through one
such layer in this photo, the shadows from the mountains clearly seen in contrast to
the sunlight shining through the haze. The layers do not appear to be level across
the planet. Here you can see this haze layer high above
the surface, but on this side of the image it touches the surface. On a side note, to me these are the most breath-taking
photos of Pluto, and I purposefully saved them until last. You can truly appreciate depth and the scale
of the mountain ranges; Pluto almost seems like a toy replica due to the extreme topographical
relief, but these mountains appear so high because Pluto is so small, and its gravity
is not strong enough to pull them down. This gives for a varied and impressive landscape
and a fitting end to the video. Did you enjoy what you saw today? Watching videos is great, and if you want
to broaden and retain that knowledge, the best way to do so is to actively grapple with
puzzles and problem solving. That’s why for these last two videos, Astrum
has partnered up with brilliant.org, a website which is a great complement to passively watching
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to really challenge your knowledge and help you learn more. Brilliant offers many well curated sequences
of problems that help you master all sorts of technical subjects. You all like Astronomy clearly which they
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on “Classical Mechanics” and “Gravitational Physics”. If you go to brilliant.org/Astrum, you can
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200 people will get 20% off the annual Brilliant premium subscription. That’s the subscription I’ve been using. Brilliant is a perfect fit for my channel
so do check them out. The data New Horizons sent back to Earth will
continue to be pored over for years to come. New Horizons has a new mission in its sights
though, a flyby of a small Kuiper Belt Object known as 2014 MU69, due to arrive on the 1st
January 2019. If you want to find out about this mission
and also see the dedicated Pluto video I will make in the future, please subscribe so you
don’t miss out. Also check out the other videos I’ve made
about a variety of astronomy topics. Thanks for all your support, and I’ll see
you next time.

100 Replies to “What did NASA’s New Horizons discover around Pluto?

  1. Very informative video, but I do have a question. What was illuminating Pluto when we saw the dark side of the planet when you were showing us the layers, and for that matter the side when we saw the surface detail? I was always told(maybe wrongly so) that Pluto is so far out that our sun would appear as small as any other star we see in our night's sky so I thought that it would be awfully hard to see anything on Pluto, regardless of the side you were on in respect to the sun? Is this camera tricks with low light apertures or light amplifying electronics or computer enhancement? I'm not crying conspiracy, the photos in this video explicitly said they were enhanced, I understand, just wondering how much light they had to add while doing it and how they did it?

  2. Celsius doesn't do us Americans any good. This channel obviously caters to less advanced countries and peoples.

  3. The Atlas 5 is not anywhere near the most powerful rocket of all time. It makes about 860,000 pounds of thrust. Compared to the Real most powerful rocket of all time the Saturn 5 with 7.5 million pounds of thrust. Also the falcon heavy does about 5 million pounds of thrust. So the Atlas 5 is not even close to the most powerful rocket of all time.

  4. What a wonderful fairy tale. It’s amazing what an active imagination can contour up. All computer generated graphic nonsense for children.

  5. Question… if hubble can see the planets that are several light years away from us why cant it see pluto which is in our solar system… it should be able to see plutos surface considering the fact tht it can see the planets that are several light years away from us…

  6. I think that more funding should be put into space exploration,as we might need to colonize other planets,as a safe guard for the continual existence of mankinds survival.

  7. Wow, they really went batshit with the nomenclature on this one. It's like since Pluto isn't a real planet they weren't worried about making the geographical names sound official, and so plastered the thing with as many geeky references as possible.

  8. IAM 65- YEARS OLD . I REMEMBER THAT NASA WAS HELP , BUILD BY NAZI IN 1950s .!!!!!! UNDER (OPERATION PAPER CLIP) .!!!!!!! . STILL SCAMMING US ALL .☠️💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰💰🚨…..DO SOME , REAL RESEARCH .? ….DO U THINK , GOD , MADE THESE PLANETS , WITH NO LIFE .? …….

  9. "It's just a rock"…alright Karen, YOU caught us, why not visit Pluto and ask to talk to their manager for an explanation of why this is sooo important to people…JEEZ!

  10. America is completely stupid and that's to bad. things aren't moving forward. they are robbing everyone, nobody can afford anything that pushes the edge, everyone is kept barely hanging on so they cant do anything cool

  11. This isn’t any more believable than sci-fi pictures. Should we be looking out for the Borg or the the Empire? NASA means “to deceive “ in Hebrew. Pluto is just a self illuminating star. Stars aren’t suns. They’re lights.

  12. I have a theory about Pluto I believe it's the remnants of Tiamat in fact I had this theory before we have seen any colors of Pluto I always have said that if we ever explore Pluto we will find human remains and animal remains and fishes from here on Earth cause Earth was Tiamat at one time and we will find things such as the creatures of mythology from here on Earth many structures from Earth as well

  13. I just wonder what the limit is of these satellites we launch.. just what is the point where they are to far out to make contact anymore . If its unlimited? Then it would b cool to let it go for maybe 20 years then turn it on an see whats out there ..

  14. Once again, nasa discovered nothing! But the sifi stories are kind of cool, if your a gullible child.. Now i, on the other hand, i have sent my own capsululated, hemocording into the triple segments outer ring… During this journey, using troxical telemetry using millisecularalery time(9) i was able to locate and record the outer shell of plutos plutonium crust… This crust is not only 1875° on in surface/glass but hollow after, aprox 43' ish.. A to g, 43 1875° h to q aprox 2010° at 53' 7 1/2" tripex inseculatoringГstep>] s – z apx -700° nasa is wrong! Basix, double glass melt layer to deep freeze, To emptiness.. Ive video proof as well…

  15. He left out the part when passing Charon a gang of Plutonian Bloods almost jacked the New Horizon Probe. My source in the trump administration said that was the 5th time it has happened. Also that all 5x were on Obama's watch. Once the space force was announced by trump not one alien gang has come close to United Space of American territory. They know were gonna invade and take what we want. No difference from earth military. You guys thought trump was stupid for building a space force. I'm in the 3rd week of space training to be deployed by tears end. Take Care, L. Skywalker

  16. Amazing. While studying Pluto it was discovered another planet, the 10th, called Eris. But because poor Pluto was re classified and no longer an actual planet ( poor Galileo too), Eris has become the official 9th planet, instead of the 10th. So texbooks have changed, but not yet the proverb, still living on planet 9 and still loving it, lol.

  17. Subject for discussion: What would you see if you could travel on the front of a light beam?

    I believe this was discussed by Albert and Mileva?

  18. Pluto is a Planet because it has signs of tectonics, and anything that has that or had that is a Planet. However it was downgraded before we discovered the volcanoes and other sign of tectonics.

  19. They should take pictures of the sun from the planets. Lol.
    I think they did from Mars….and it was about the same size….I imagine it would still be quite large…relatively..perhaps like looking at our moon from earth?….

  20. At such a distance from the sun how is it possible that Pluto is able to illuminate as it does – surely it should be dark , the sun must size a marble or smaller at that distance! Very strange

  21. We have become a generation of super humans. We can communicate with a man made satellite that took 9 years in space to reach the farthest planet in our solar system and take such high quality pictures. Irony is, there are still places on our planet we can't communicate if they don't have mobile networks.

  22. I can explain y Pluto’s moons are not orbiting its gravity in the same sense as our moon does earth
    The moons are actually hovering Pluto because of its extreme cold temperatures
    U can research the effects of extreme freezing on magnets ,

  23. Atlas was the most powerful rocket? Everyone I ever heard says that the Saturn 5 1st stages 5 engines together made it the most powerful man made object including the space shuttle? I'll have to check this out!

  24. Pluto is beautiful! Personally I think it along with Haumea, Make Make & the other Kuiper belt minor planets should still all be regarded as planets, especially as some have their own moons. ( And yes I realise some asteroids in the asteroid belt have them, but that's another story!).

  25. NASA and the new horizons team actually pronounce Charon with an Sh sound, like Sharon. The way you pronounced Charon (with a k sound) is correct for the Greek god, but the man who named the moon named it with inspiration from his wife's name Charlene, thus the ch or sh sound stuck. Apparently NASA accepts and uses his original (wrong) pronunciation, I think its cool trivia.

  26. Pluto is a god blind n beggar
    if his eyesight would ever be restored order will be perturbed
    Please give Pluto back it's riches
    he was a planet once

  27. amazing how Disney knew what Pluto looked like back in the 50s. Come on peeps wakey wakey

  28. Awesome video but you called the atlas V “the most powerful rocket of all time”, this is not true it is a medium launch vehicle. Depending on the configuration it can carry 8-18 tons to LEO depending on config. The atlas used for new horizons was the beefiest one they had a 551 series with 5 strap on solid rocket motors

  29. The Saturn V from the 60's is still the most powerful rocket ever made. This satellite was faster because it was much lighter. The Saturn V had to lift 3 guys, a capsule, and a car. . .

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