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New Images of Pluto from New Horizons

Pluto in mid-May

Cool image time! New images taken by New Horizons of Pluto in mid-May have begun showing faint details of the planet’s surface.

“These new images show us that Pluto’s differing faces are each distinct; likely hinting at what may be very complex surface geology or variations in surface composition from place to place,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “These images also continue to support the hypothesis that Pluto has a polar cap whose extent varies with longitude; we’ll be able to make a definitive determination of the polar bright region’s iciness when we get compositional spectroscopy of that region in July.”

These images also suggest vaguely that Pluto might not be entire spherical, but I wouldn’t put much money on that speculation. We will know for sure in just a few more weeks.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Nicholas Paizis

    Bob – why is it that these images always seem to be delayed by a couple of weeks? The spacecraft is approaching Pluto at about 1 million miles a day so it should be about 15 million miles closer by now. Is this bandwidth limited?

  • The answer is very simple. The data arrival takes time (light can only travel so fast over such distances). Then it takes time to analyze it. And then it takes time to write the press release. :)

    Right now they have the luxury of calmly prepping each image release before releasing it to the public. Things will change when they actually do the fly-by July 14. They will then be expected to release the data as soon as they get it, which will still probably be a day later due to the travel time from Pluto.

  • Matthew Falk

    The non-spherical shape of some of the images might be a result of the deconvolution image-processing used. They’re trying to squeeze as much as they can from this limited data, and that can cause some weird side-effects.

  • Nicholas Paizis

    Bob –

    The bandwidth isn’t going to get any better as they arrive at Pluto and have a lot more images and data to send, and the time it takes light to travel from Pluto to here is about 7 hours, not 2+ weeks. I find it hard to believe it takes 2 weeks to process these images. I process astronomical images all the time on my desktop. It takes minutes, not weeks, and I don’t have the compute horsepower they do. I want to see what’s there in a reasonable delay time. After all, we’re paying for it.

  • You didn’t catch my satire. It doesn’t take two weeks. They choose to take two weeks, at this time, because they have the luxury of doing so. They won’t have that luxury when New Horizons does its actual fly-by.

  • Nicholas Paizis

    I caught it. I just think they’re being lazy on our dime.

  • I think you are being unreasonable. I’m willing to cut them a week or so slack at this time, knowing that when crunch time comes in July they will be working 80 hour weeks at a minimum getting those images out as fast as possible.

  • Nicholas Paizis

    Bob –

    I don’t think I’m being unreasonable. The public paid for this and I don’t see any justification for screening the data at all. It should be available live as it comes in to anyone who wants to download it and process it for themselves. That would remove any burden from the imaging team. You are no doubt aware of some conspiracy theorists who suggest the data is being filtered to keep us from seeing what they don’t want us to see. Withholding images for weeks just fuels their cause. Live release would shut them up.

    It’s ours. We paid for it. There’s no reason for it being withheld.

  • “It should be available live as it comes in to anyone who wants to download it and process it for themselves.”

    This statement makes believe that the scientists and engineers who conceived, designed, built, and have babied this mission now for more than a decade should get nothing for that effort. This is unreasonable. The scientists deserve some pay-off for this work, if only having the right to see the data first.

    The data will be released quite quickly during the flyby, fast enough to satisfy every taxpayer. To ask for more is to not live in the real world.

    And speaking of not living in the real world, I don’t worry about the conspiracy theorists since they have their own problems. To do things to appease their theories is a waste of time, since they won’t believe you anyway.

  • Nicholas Paizis


    “This statement makes believe that the scientists and engineers who conceived, designed, built, and have babied this mission now for more than a decade should get nothing for that effort”

    I’m shocked to hear that during all those years they never got paid and worked just for the satisfaction of being the only ones who got to see the data that someone else paid for. I spent 25 years at Intel Corp developing new chip designs. The instant we had working silicon it was off to our customers for evaluation. They were the ones who ultimately paid the bills.
    Nobody sat around reveling in the satisfaction of being the only ones who got to see it working. Our bosses (analogous to the taxpayers) felt that we had been compensated by the salary we received all those years. Why are those space engineers entitled to more consideration that the people I worked with? We put in the hours too. We sweated through 80 hour weeks too. Why are the people in the space program so special? What is so unique about their area of discovery that dwarfs every other area of human achievement? At Intel we thought we were doing something special too. We were developing new devices and processes that had never been done before. We were breaking new ground too. It was sexy and we got a lot of attention too but we never expected to be treated like we were better than those who paid us. I think you have romanticized those scientists and engineers to an unrealistic level. They are human beings just like everyone else doing a job they get paid for. We deserve the data.

  • Edward


    Robert is correct, and your comparison with Intel is misguided.

    Sending chips off for customer evaluation is not analogous to scientific papers; customer evaluation is part of Intel’s business model. Only Intel gets the credit and glory for, keeps the intellectual property for, and profits from your chip design. The scientists are not “treated like [they] were better” than we engineers. Many scientists, like many engineers I have worked with, do not do the job just for the money. The comparison is specious.

    A better comparison is with the commercialization of space imagery. When Ikonos was first launched, my father thought that the imagery should be made public, as many government images had been; you likewise want data to be made public. But had Space Imaging, Inc. done so, they would have disrupted their business model, lost their ability to make a profit — or pay back their loan — and gone out of business quickly. If the scientists release their data before they can profit from it, then they disrupt their own business model, anger their financiers, and lose the ability to acquire future grants or contracts. If NASA wanted the data in the public domain, then they would have written the contracts that way.

    If someone else gets all the glory and credit, why would the good scientists and their organizations go to the expense and trouble of proposing space experiments in the first place?

    I have worked for scientists, designing and building their space instruments, reading their papers, and sometimes even being there when the first data came back from Goddard. Scientists do not like being scooped, and it would be even worse to be scooped by their own data and worser still if the scoop was a bad conclusion.

    If they had been required to release all their data in real time, dozens (or more) students and scientists around the world would pour over the data and quickly release half-thought papers, scooping my scientists with poor conclusions. Getting the actual truth out there could take years or decades, if ever (there are *still* those who believe, after half a century, that bumble bees mathematically cannot fly, not realizing that it was an aliasing problem — a poorly designed experiment).

    What if some politician influenced the conclusions for political gain? We could end up arguing about — and squandering hundreds of billions of borrowed dollars on — the fallacy of some silly “theory” like global warming (son of “the coming ice age” — and quite the “conspiracy theory”).

    There are some organizations that are willing to put their data or some of their data into the public domain in real time for others to peruse and present their own conclusions, but many space scientists spend years on their experiments (in the case of Gravity Probe-B, a few spent their entire careers). Like Intel, they — and their organizations and financiers — want the credit that *they* deserve for their insight, inspiration, and perspiration. They do not want others to present bad conclusions derived from their own good data, just because the others think that real time release of the data is deserved.

    Those scientists, organizations, and financiers who agree to share their data in real time are still free to do so.

    As the population of Baltimore is finding out, be careful what you ask for, the unintended consequences may have been a lesson learned and forgotten long ago.

  • Phill O

    Your comments Edward are consistent with those written in The Universe in a Mirror by an author well know to us. The Hubble images were released slowly for your very arguments. In fact, the ability to review data from the photos was in part, those scientists remuneration.

    Phill O

  • Nicholas Paizis

    “If someone else gets all the glory and credit, why would the good scientists and their organizations go to the expense and trouble of proposing space experiments in the first place?”


    You seem to be confused here. You think those “good scientists” paid for this program? No, The American People paid for it and the “good scientists” were employees who received a salary for their work. They were duly compensated. The data doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to those who paid for it in the first place. Why do you place the “good scientists” on a higher plane than the “good engineers” in the private sector? What makes them better?

    “Scientists do not like being scooped, and it would be even worse to be scooped by their own data and worser still if the scoop was a bad conclusion”

    Their own data? What makes it their data when the American people paid for it? I’m sorry to hear that their feelings might be hurt if someone else might misinterpret the People’s data, but someone else might also find a meaningful insight as well. What right do those well paid “good scientists” have to exclusive access to someone else’ s data?

    That’s the essence of the problem. The belief that because the “good scientists” worked on a project that produced the data, it is therefore there’s. Had they paid for it themselves, or had it been supported by private funds then yes, it would be theirs, but when The American People pay for the project the data belongs to The American People, not these who are no more than salaried employees.

  • You misunderstand my position on this if you think I support the scientists keeping and owning the data. Of course they don’t. And in no NASA mission do they.

    All that NASA does for many missions (but not planetary missions like Lost Horizons) is to give the project scientists one year to publish papers on the data. This was done with Hubble, as well as many other space telescope missions. After that the data becomes available to everyone to analyze and use.

    For planetary missions, however, the data has always been released immediately. And it will be released that way with Lost Horizons.

    However, there is nothing unreasonable or inappropriate for them to schedule press releases for their convenience during this approach phase. It makes their difficult job easier, it helps publicize the mission more effectively, and it allows the data to be released in a more coherent manner. Nor does it restrict access to any data, as the data itself will be available quite soon for everyone else to peruse at their leisure.

    You are making a mountain out of mole hill. The data belongs to the public, not the scientists, as you wish. You are demanding something you already get.

  • PeterF

    * “If someone else gets all the glory and credit, why would the good scientists and their organizations go to the expense and trouble of proposing space experiments in the first place?”

    It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.
    – Harry S Truman

    I was just reading an article about the “Sports Illustrated” cover pictures. In the early days it was impossible to print a cover with last weekend’s victory celebration. Only the advance of technology has enabled the magazine to publish a cover with a picture of the latest game winning touchdown. Personally, I don’t mind waiting a week or two for pretty pictures. I actually prefer if an expert has had a chance to study the image to provide a narrative as to what I am looking at and why any particular image is important.
    (I don’t really have time to go through other peoples vacation pictures before they have had a chance to delete the pictures of their thumbs)

  • Edward


    Please do not play stupid. We both know that I am fully aware of how scientific funding works, having worked in the field.

    > “What makes it their data when the American people paid for it?”

    The contract. The contract may require that the data eventually become public domain, but the contract usually allows the principal scientist the right to the data long enough for first publication.

    You seem to be confused between the government owning something and you owning something. Once you pay your taxes, that money stops belonging to you. You do not own the data any more than you own a government bicycle, and you are not free to use the data at your leisure, just as you are not free to use that government bicycle at your leisure. In both cases, it would be theft. Once the data is placed in the public domain, however, you are free to use it at your leisure. If, as with some towns, the bicycle is made available for public use, you are free to use it at your leisure, too.

    This answer also applies to your question: “What right do those well paid ‘good scientists’ have to exclusive access to someone else’ s data?” It is not someone else’s data, they have the right to it.

    > “I’m sorry to hear that their feelings might be hurt if someone else might misinterpret the People’s data”

    Before you respond to a comment, perhaps you should read the comment. The point was that science is harmed by poorly conducted research and bad conclusions. Terrible public policy may be implemented. The screws that hold together the plane that you fly on could be too weak to hold it together.

    > “but someone else might also find a meaningful insight as well.”

    Yes. And he will get his opportunity. But don’t you think that the person who did all the work should reap the rewards, just as you and Intel do (or am I wrong in assuming that you were compensated for your work at Intel)? Or had Intel secretly released all its intellectual property to the public domain? Come to think of it, you might have felt bad if AMD, not Intel, were to have freely produced the chip that you sweated 80-hour weeks to create.

    You still have not answered the question as to who would perform the experiments that gather the data if those who did all the work do not receive the reward. You know the answer; I know you do. You know the parable of The Little Red Hen. Those who do the work should get the reward; it is only fair.


    Truman could be correct. A good leader assigns tasks and rewards the assignees with the credit rather than taking the credit as the leader, for instance, of the lab.

    The scientific process does slow down some discoveries, but bypassing the process has also created confusion. Announcing bad information before confirmation resulted in the Piltdown Man, cold fusion, and “flightless” bumble bees (among other things). Had a little more care for the process been applied to these fiascoes, we wouldn’t have spent decades thinking that falsities were true. We only accomplish amazing things when they are truly amazing.

    So why would Truman care that the scientist who does the hard work gets the credit for doing the science properly, rather than some claim jumper who does a sloppy job while rushing to publish first to claim the credit?

  • Nicholas Paizis

    Edward – If you have to resort to insults to support a weak argument I will pass at this point.

  • Edward


    Please point out what you consider to be insulting, so that I can have better discussions with you in the future.

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