After glitch, New Horizons to resume science operations July 7, before Pluto encounter

The newest maps of Pluto, as of two weeks before closest approach. A black and white reflectance map has been combined with a natural colour map to produce the map in the center. Four dark patches of about the same size and spacing can also be seen in these and other recent images. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
The newest maps of Pluto, as of two weeks before closest approach. A black and white reflectance map has been combined with a natural colour map to produce the map in the center. Four dark patches of about the same size and spacing can also be seen in these and other recent images. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

After an anomaly was detected onboard the New Horizons spacecraft on July 4, which had many people holding their collective breath, NASA announced today that science operations will resume on July 7, just days before the spacecraft makes its closest approach to Pluto and its moons on July 14.

Read MoreAfter glitch, New Horizons to resume science operations July 7, before Pluto encounter

New colour images show ‘two faces’ of Pluto and odd dark spots along equator

New colour images of Pluto sent back by New Horizons showing two different “faces” or hemispheres of the dwarf planet and its largest moon Charon. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
New colour images of Pluto sent back by New Horizons showing two different “faces” or hemispheres of the dwarf planet and its largest moon Charon. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

First there were the unusual bright spots on Ceres, which are still awaiting an explanation, and now as New Horizons races toward its flyby encounter with Pluto on July 14, another mystery has emerged: four intriguing large dark spots more or less along Pluto’s equator which seem to be roughly the same size and evenly spaced. The spots are mentioned as part of an update on July 1 from NASA about the “two different faces of Pluto” that scientists are now starting to see in more detail.

Read MoreNew colour images show ‘two faces’ of Pluto and odd dark spots along equator

Image Gallery: mystery bright spots on Ceres

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
The bright spots on Ceres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The Dawn spacecraft has almost reached the dwarf planet Ceres, and a lot more detail can be seen as it gets closer. The odd bright spots which have puzzled scientists for a long time now can also be seen more clearly for the first time. What was thought to be one spot in this crater is now obviously two close together. Are they exposed ice or some other material? Are they related to possible cryovolcanoes? Dawn was 46,000 kilometers (29,000 miles) away when it took this image on February 18, 2015.

Read MoreImage Gallery: mystery bright spots on Ceres

Getting closer! New Horizons sees two of Pluto’s smaller moons for first time

Long-exposure images taken by New Horizons between Jan. 27 and Feb. 8, 2015, showing the two tiny moons Hydra (inside yellow diamond) and Nix (inside orange diamond). Image Credit: Image credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Long-exposure images taken by New Horizons between Jan. 27 and Feb. 8, 2015, showing the two tiny moons Hydra (inside yellow diamond) and Nix (inside orange diamond). Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The New Horizons spacecraft, on course for a historic encounter with Pluto this summer, is now close enough to see two of its smaller moons for the first time. The new views also come 85 years after the discovery of Pluto by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh on Feb. 18, 1930.

Read MoreGetting closer! New Horizons sees two of Pluto’s smaller moons for first time

Water vapour discovered on dwarf planet Ceres

Artist's conception of the water vapour plumes coming from the surface of Ceres. Credit: IMCCE / Paris Observatory / CNRS
Artist’s conception of the water vapour plumes coming from the surface of Ceres. Credit: IMCCE / Paris Observatory / CNRS

The dwarf planet Ceres, the largest body in the asteroid belt, is releasing water vapour into space, astronomers announced yesterday. The discovery, made by the European Herschel space telescope, is being called the first unambiguous detection of water vapour around any object in the asteroid belt and was published today in the journal Nature.

Read MoreWater vapour discovered on dwarf planet Ceres