February 05, 2010, 9:39 PM — NASA’s Hubble telescope this week got some great pictures of our most distant planet Pluto, showing what space agency researchers called an icy and dark molasses-colored, mottled world. But while the shots were the most detailed yet nabbed by NASA’s telescopes, it is the satellite known as New Horizons that may ultimately steal the Pluto show.
By launching in January 2006, New Horizons launched into space in January 2006 and has been hurtling toward Pluto at about 50,000 mph. Even at that rate the 1,054lb satellite will get it close to the dwarf planet sometime around July 2015.
Once it is there – or actually within 6,000 miles of the planet and its largest moon, Charon -- New Horizons will take close-up pictures in visible and near-infrared wavelengths. The best pictures of Pluto will depict surface features as small as 200 feet (about 60 meters) across, NASA said.http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/mission/missionDesign.php
NASA said the spacecraft will look for ultraviolet emissions from Pluto's atmosphere and make the best global maps of Pluto and Charon in green, blue, red and a special wavelength that is sensitive to methane frost on the surface. The satellite will also take spectral maps in the near infrared, offering up details about Pluto's and Charon's surface compositions and locations and temperatures of these materials.
The recent Hubble pictures actually will help NASA decide what it wants to focus New Horizons cameras’ on in the future. The Hubble pictures now show what NASA called a variegated world with white, dark-orange and charcoal-black terrain. The overall color is believed to be a result of ultraviolet radiation from the distant sun breaking up methane that is present on Pluto's surface, leaving behind a dark and red carbon-rich residue, NASA stated.