NASA released some simply amazing pictures of Pluto
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Surely you remember earlier this summer, when the New Horizons spacecraft zoomed past Pluto taking lots of pictures and showing us the cute little heart it wears.

Well, because those high resolution pictures aren't small, while the distance between us and that spacecraft is quite large, NASA only started releasing some of the first real close up shots Sept. 10.

And boy, are they breathtaking.

These are composite photos, pieced together from many smaller shots. And they show a staggering amount of geographical variety as NASA says in their accompanying press release:

New Horizons began its yearlong download of new images and other data over the Labor Day weekend. Images downlinked in the past few days have more than doubled the amount of Pluto's surface seen at resolutions as good as 400 meters (440 yards) per pixel. They 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. They also 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," said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, 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."

And look at its dark side.

Additionally, if you want to see a really neat composite video of New Horizons journey through the end of our solar system, watch it here.

Pluto's flyby gets a stunning video to go with it.
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Remember a month ago when we saw Pluto up close? The photographer New Horizons kept going and sending back beautiful pictures to Earth, but one person wanted to see it in motion.

Vimeo user Bjorn Jonsson went through the pain-staking effort of stitching together many photos sent back to us and released by NASA to create this sunning video of the view as the spacecraft flew past the edge of our solar system.

As Jonsson details in the video description:

he time covered is 09:35 to 13:35 (closest approach occurred near 11:50). Pluto's atmosphere is included and should be fairly realistic from about 10 seconds into the animation and to the end. Earlier it is largely just guesswork that can be improved in the future once all data has been downlinked from the spacecraft. Light from Pluto's satellite Charon illuminates Pluto's night side but is exaggerated here, in reality it would be only barely visible or not visible at all. The field of view is 12.5 degrees.

Just check out this beautiful experience.

With something like that, who cares if it's labeled as a full planet or not?

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As you are no doubt award, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft passed by Pluto July 14, giving us as a species the first opportunity to get a clear view of the far off dwarf planet.

Everyone was excited. Except Neil Degrasse Tyson that is.

Since Stephen Colbert has nothing better to do than plan for the apocalypse and launch a cable access career, he invited the popular astronomer and host of the television show Cosmos to come share in the tenacity of human invention.

Tyson, a long time advocate of demoting Pluto down to its lowly current status as a dwarf planet, had a hard time matching Colbert's enthusiasm for seeing the reaches of our solar system.

"No one has seen this before yesterday," Tyson said in the video of the gorgeous photo that's been making the rounds. "So, that's awesome."

He took the same level of malaise to his Twitter account yesterday as well:

Good natured as their discussion was, Tyson goes to some lengths to show how unimpressed he is with the proceedings, even pointing out that the small planet is not even featured on his tie.

Colbert counters by quoting Dante's Inferno and then sharing a Klondike ice cream bar. So, pretty typical.

"It even has a heart," Colbert says to Tyson, referring to what many see as a shape hidden within the terrain of Pluto, "unlike you."

Via: The Verge
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It took nine years and 3 billion miles, but at 7:49 a.m. EST the New Horizons spacecraft passed what was once the furthest planet in our solar system.

Traveling at a speed of 30,800 miles per hour, New Horizons zoomed by Pluto a scant 7,800 miles away. This is the closest we have ever got to Pluto and it will send back some of the best images of the maligned dwarf planet we have ever seen. Maybe this will convince those scientists to let it back into the club and give us the nine planets that we deserve.

But we've learned a lot so far. For instance, now we know how big the dang thing is.

This morning, NASA announced that Pluto is 2,370km (about 1,473 miles) in diameter, give or take 20m. That makes it ever so slightly bigger than Eris, a much darker and denser object that lives farther out in the Kuiper Belt. (Eris measures 2,336km in diameter.) Measurements of Pluto's size before today were estimates at best, their accuracy skewed by the dwarf planet's hazy atmosphere.

We've also learned that Pluto has a pretty big ice cap, filled with lots of nitrogen and frozen methane. (I could've told you the place was cold nine years ago.)

Since this mission happened billions of miles away and it takes four hours for the radio waves New Horizon sends us to be uploaded, we shouldn't expect to see any pictures filled with happy, waving aliens until tonight.

Also, by the way, the download speed on that information is 1 Kb/s. Dialup hell.

Here's a video explaining the delicacy and scale of this Pluto flyby:

As we got closer to the dwarf planet, however, all anyone could see was the image of Mickey Mouse's dog, carefully hidden within the terrain.

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