Two years ago today (July 14), our New Horizons spacecraft made its closest flyby of Pluto…collecting images and science that revealed a geologically complex world. Data from this mission are helping us understand worlds at the edge of our solar system.
The spacecraft is now venturing deeper into the distant, mysterious Kuiper Belt…a relic of solar system formation…to reach its next target. On New Year’s Day 2019, New Horizons will zoom past a Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69.
The Kuiper Belt is a disc-shaped region of icy bodies – including dwarf planets such as Pluto – and comets beyond the orbit of Neptune. It extends from about 30 to 55 Astronomical Units (an AU is the distance from the sun to Earth) and is probably populated with hundreds of thousands of icy bodies larger than 62 miles across, and an estimated trillion or more comets.
Nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto, you may be asking how the spacecraft will function for the 2014 MU69 flyby. Well, New Horizons was originally designed to fly far beyond the Pluto system and explore deeper into the Kuiper Belt.
The spacecraft carries extra hydrazine fuel for the flyby; its communications system is designed to work from beyond Pluto; its power system is designed to operate for many more years; and its scientific instruments were designed to operate in light levels much lower than it will experience during the 2014 MU69 flyby.
What have we learned about Pluto since its historic flyby in 2015?
During its encounter, the New Horizons spacecraft collected more than 1,200 images of Pluto and tens of gigabits of data. The intensive downlinking of information took about a year to return to Earth! Here are a few things we’ve discovered:
Pluto Has a Heart
This image captured by New Horizons around 16 hours before its closest approach shows Pluto’s “heart.” This stunning image of one of its most dominant features shows us that the heart’s diameter is about the same distance as from Denver to Chicago. This image also showed us that Pluto is a complex world with incredible geological diversity.
Pluto’s vast icy plain, informally called Sputnik Planitia, resembles frozen mud cracks on Earth. It has a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments, bordered by what appear to be shallow troughs.
Images from the spacecraft display chaotically jumbled mountains that only add to the complexity of Pluto’s geography. The rugged, icy mountains are as tall as 11,000 feet high.
This high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. The surface of Pluto has a remarkable range of subtle color variations. Many landforms have their own distinct colors, telling a complex geological and climatological story.
Foggy Haze and Blue Atmosphere
Images returned from the New Horizons spacecraft have also revealed that Pluto’s global atmospheric haze has many more layers than scientists realized. The haze even creates a twilight effect that softly illuminates nightside terrain near sunset, which makes them visible to the cameras aboard the spacecraft.
New Horizons detected numerous small, exposed regions of water ice on Pluto. Scientists are eager to understand why water appears exactly where it does, and not in other places.
Designed by John M. Browning c.1889-95 and made by Colt Manufacturing Co. c.WW1. .30-06 caliber, belt-fed, lever-actuated gas-operated automatic fire, air-cooled finned barrel. An early machine gun design, and a sexy one at that. The Colt-Browning “potato digger” was the first reliable gas-operated rapid-fire gun to see military service, starting in the Spanish-American war. This make the US Navy the earliest example of armed forces not seeing a problem with gas operated machine guns compared to recoil operated ones, a demographic also known as “not the German army until the 50′s”.
Designed by John M. Browning and manufactured by New England Small Arms Corp. c.WW2 - serial number 515648. .30-06 20-round removable box magazine, gas-operated select fire. These guns’ cool factor is off the chart.
Manufactured by Winchester Repeating Arms c.1895~1900′s - serial number
529675. .30WCF 8-round tubular magazine, lever action repeating rifle, extensively engraved with Northwestern Native American patterns. There are people out there that will carve up your rifle’s stock into a work of art, even today, and I have to say this is a reason to buy a hunting rifle all on its own.
The Normandy Landings (codenamed Operation Neptune) were the landing operations on Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (termed D-Day) of the Allied invasion of Normandy in Operation Overlord during World War II. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front.
The amphibious landings were preceded by extensive aerial and naval bombardment and an airborne assault—the landing of 24,000 American, British, and Canadian airborne troops shortly after midnight. Allied infantry and armoured divisions began landing on the coast of France at 06:30.
When the seaborne units began to land about 06:30 on June 6, the British and Canadians on Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches overcame light opposition. So did the Americans at Utah. The U.S. 1st Division at OmahaBeach, however, confronted the best of the German coast divisions, the 352nd, and was roughly handled by machine gunners as the troops waded ashore. During the morning, the landing at Omaha threatened to fail. Only dedicated local leadership eventually got the troops inland—though at a cost of more than 2,000 casualties.
Manufactured in England c.early 19th century. ~.30 caliber ball, patina’d cast steel ball air tank good for half a dozen shots at effective range. I love these old air rifles, they never were extremely popular, at least not in the military, because of the fragility of these early air reservoirs. The Austrian army did use the Girardoni air rifle in the late 18th century, but this raised yet another problem of filling the reservoirs back up after usage which was either really long and labor-intensive or required a specialized cart.
Another air rifle with an offset top-mounted brass air tank.
Designed by the Norwegians Ole Herman Johannes Krag and Erik Jørgensen and manufactured by the Springfield Arsenal c.1898-1904 for the US Army - serial number 310635. .30-40 Krag five-round ‘half-capsule’ fixed magazine, bolt action repeater, magazine cut-off, sporterized stock.
open magazine on a Krag rifle
The most distinctive feature of these rifles were their strange box magazine, which allowed to user to basically dump up to five rounds of ammunition in it at any point of time, with the bolt closed and another round chambered if necessary. That feature was called a capsule magazine by its creators, with earlier prototypes having a ten-round capacity and wrapping around the action even more, hence its name.