TIME space

See Closest Photo Yet of Pluto in NASA Spacecraft Flyby

A new image of Pluto shows what appears to be a heart

Correction appended, July 14, 2015

After nine-and-a-half years, 3 billion miles and heart-stopping drops in communication, the moment has arrived: New Horizons, NASA’s spacecraft designed to explore the furthest reaches of our solar system, passed Pluto at 7:49 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

“It should be a day of incredible pride,” Charlie Bolden, NASA’s chief administrator, announced on NASA TV amid jubilant applause and cheers.

The spacecraft’s travel was meticulously planned and on point: it arrived one minute before scheduled arrival and used a “36-by-57 mile window in space” to get to its destination—a feat NASA compared to “the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball.” At its closest approach, New Horizons was about 7,750 miles above Pluto’s surface, approximately the distance between New York and Mumbai.

New Horizons’ journey to Pluto had reached a turning point last week when images of its nearing proximity to the planet arrived, offering scientists glimpses of a mysterious planet astronomers know very little about. With New Horizons’ approach, the United States has solidified its role as a leader in space exploration, becoming the first and only country to have sent a spacecraft to every planet in the solar system.

The images of the dwarf planet are stunning and feature what many astronomy geeks have dubbed a heart in the lower hemisphere, perhaps a crater.

New Horizons has thus far traveled 3 billion miles.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the time New Horizons passed Pluto on Tuesday. It was 7:49 a.m.

TIME space

Photographing Pluto: This Is How New Horizons Works

NASA's Jeff Moore answers our questions about the historic Pluto fly-by

On January 19, 2006, the New Horizons space craft launched from Cape Canaveral on a mission that would take it over three billion miles away to an unprecedented rendezvous with the dwarf planet Pluto.

Nearly a decade later, the first images from that fly-by will be sent back to Earth on Wednesday – they will be the best and closest images of Pluto ever taken.

TIME Multimedia Editor Mia Tramz interviews Jeff Moore, the Geology and Geophysics Investigation (GGI) Theme Team leader, about the cameras they used for this historic mission and what these new images of Pluto may mean for our understanding of the universe.

TIME LightBox: How many cameras are on the space craft?

Jeff Moore: There’s two cameras that more or less operate in visible light: a color camera which is a medium resolution camera (Ralph), and then there’s a grayscale or black and white telephoto camera (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI).

Our long range pictures of things that are going to give us our highest resolution images will be taken LORRI. And the color pictures will be taken with Ralph. We can actually combine the colors from Ralph to colorize LORRI’s pictures.

And then there is an imaging infrared spectrometer that will also makes pictures of a sort. But they’re mostly compositional information, like what Pluto and its moons are made out of.

TIME LightBox: Was any new technology incorporated into the cameras?

Jeff Moore: At a relatively small level yes, but mainly the cameras represent mature technology of 15 years ago. If you’re going to launch a space craft that’s going to fly over three billion miles away from the Earth – and it’s going to take ten years to get there – you want to make sure that what you’re sending there is completely reliable.

So we did not use the latest most cutting edge technology, we used technology which we would be sure to work when we got there. We used cameras not too different from what you can buy at a camera store or in the back of your telephone. We made the cameras very robust and mechanically simple so that nothing could break and nothing could fail.

TIME LightBox: How long does it take to get an image back from the space craft?

Jeff Moore: In order to keep the mission economical so that NASA would have the resources to pay for [it], we did a few things such as using a relatively small radio antenna on the space craft. And we also bolted everything onto the space craft without any moving parts.

That means several things. When the space craft collects data, it usually does not have its antenna pointed at the Earth – the space craft has to reorient itself back to Earth to transmit data.

Also, at the distance of Pluto, we can only send data back at a rate that’s comparable with an old 1990s modem. Because of that, during the encounter, we’ll be taking many, many pictures, but those pictures will all be stored on the solid state memory and radioed back to the Earth months after the encounter.

Much of our best and most interesting data isn’t going to be seen until this fall or early next year. Of course we’re going to send back some very interesting high priority data during the days of the encounter itself.

TIME LightBox: How often are you receiving pictures from the space craft currently?

Jeff Moore: We are getting pictures back on a daily to weekly basis right now.

MORE: See The Trailer For TIME’s Unprecedented New Series: A Year In Space

TIME LightBox: Can you describe the different teams that will be working with these pictures and what data they’ll be looking for in the images?

Jeff Moore: There’s four teams: There is a Composition (COMP) Theme Team which will look mostly at the data from the infrared mapping spectrometer I described earlier. It doesn’t have the same pixel resolution as the cameras, but it takes pictures in over two hundred and fifty colors in the near infrared. They can make spectra of individual points on Pluto and determine what kinds of materials make up the surface of the planet.

Then there’s an Atmospheres (ATM) Theme Team. They will examine the structure and density and surface pressure and chemistry and winds of Pluto’s atmosphere.

And then last but not least there is a Particles and Plasma (P&P) Theme Team which will study the interaction of solar wind with the gases which come off of Pluto’s atmosphere and off its moons. They can tell a lot about the evolution and long term survivability of, or changes at least, in Pluto’s atmospheric history by looking at how these fields and particles from the Sun interact with the material and the vicinity of Pluto.

TIME LightBox: From your own personal point of view, what sorts of things are you most excited to start finding out about once the pictures come back from the fly-by?

Jeff Moore: The thing that I’m going to be most excited about is understanding the various geological processes that have operated to shape the surface. We see evidence that there’s been vast erosion and buildup of ices as Pluto goes through its extreme seasons.

Pluto has extreme seasons which may well drive very exotic land forms. We may see big landscapes that are eroded that look like Monument Valley and maybe other places which look like polar ice sheets.

It’s perfectly possible to see where the ground’s been broken and split into mountains or ridges or canyons from tectonic forces. We might even see evidence for an exotic form of volcanism where you have this very cold but volatile material that makes up Pluto. It might be warmed by radioactive minerals in the interior. There might be eruptions of ice or methane or nitrogen volcanoes. That can’t be ruled out.

And we expect to see probably at least a few impact craters here and there. If the surface has very few impact craters that means it’s very young. And Pluto has, up until recent times, or in recent times been geologically active. If it has lots of impact craters it means that most of the things that happened in the history of Pluto happened a long time ago.

There’s a lot of things we don’t know anything about. And figuring out how all these different geological processes worked in concert with each other and which came first will tell us the history of Pluto.

But I always tell everybody right now, what I really anticipate most about Pluto is to be surprised.

TIME LightBox: How do you anticipate this mission will contribute to our understanding of our universe?

Jeff Moore: Pluto may be the star witness to the whole third zone of the solar system. The inner zone of the solar system has the rocky planets like the Earth and Mars and so on. And the middle solar system have all the gas giants like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and all their moons.

But then beyond those worlds, there is a vast realm of ice worlds which planets like Pluto represents the largest members of this third zone of the solar system, where water ice is considered to be something that never melts – it’s considered to be hard as rock, as un-meltable as rock.

The things that are operating on the surface at those temperatures instead are things like frozen nitrogen and frozen methane, which of course are gases on the Earth.

The things which make our atmosphere, or the stuff that comes out of our gas heated stoves, are the things which make up the surface materials and the rocks on these worlds like Pluto. And how they interact, it’s really not something we’ve seen a lot of or have any understanding of.

It represents in some sense one of the major regions of our solar system. Pluto may represent one of the more common types of worlds in the universe. And we simply haven’t seen such worlds before, so it’s going to be really exciting to see such a landscape for the first time.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Jeff Moore is the Geology and Geophysics Investigation (GGI) Theme Team leader for New Horizons. Follow the New Horizons Mission @NASANewHorizons.

Mia Tramz is a Multimedia Editor for TIME.com. Follow her on Twitter @miatramz.

TIME health

Hardly Any Women Regret Having an Abortion, a New Study Finds

The conclusion comes after a three-year research period involving nearly 670 women of all social backgrounds

Ninety-five percent of women who have had abortions do not regret the decision to terminate their pregnancies, according to a study published last week in the multidisciplinary academic journal PLOS ONE.

The study was carried out by researchers from the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at UC San Francisco’s School of Medicine, and from the university’s division of biostatistics.

Its conclusions come after a three-year research period in which nearly 670 women were regularly surveyed on the subject of their abortions. The sample group was diverse with regard to standard social metrics (race, education, and employment) and on the matter of what the study calls pregnancy and abortion circumstances. Financial considerations were given as the reasons for an abortion by 40 percent of women; 36 percent had decided it was “not the right time;” 26 percent of women found the decision very or somewhat easy; 53 percent found it very or somewhat difficult.

The authors of the study concluded that the “overwhelming majority” of the women participating in the study felt that abortion had been the right decision “both in the short-term and over three years.”

These results offer a statistical retort to the claim that women who have abortions suffer emotionally as a result, as anti-abortion campaigners claim. Previous studies cited in support of this claim, researchers said, “suffer from shortcomings, leaving the question of women’s post-abortion emotions unresolved.”

The new study is careful to avoid generalities. It discerns between having lingering emotions after an abortion and regretting the abortion altogether — two distinct responses that pro-lifers tend to conflate — and concludes that post-abortion emotional reactions are normal, but almost inevitably taper over time, and that ultimately, very few women altogether regret terminating their pregnancies.

“Certainly, experiencing feelings of guilt or regret in the short-term after an abortion is not a mental health problem; in fact, such emotions are a normal part of making a life decision that many women in this study found to be difficult,” the study reads. “Our results of declining emotional intensity… [find] steady or improving levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction, stress, social support, stress, substance use, and symptoms of depression and anxiety over time post-abortion.”

TIME space

Pluto Is Larger Than We Previously Thought

NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI NASA's photos show Pluto, right, and its moon Charon, left.

The former planet is 1,473 miles in diameter, according to new images from NASA's New Horizons mission

It’s still not a planet, but Pluto is bigger than experts thought.

NASA reported on Monday that scientists on their New Horizons Mission have determined the size of Pluto. The former planet is 1,473 miles in diameter, slightly larger than previous estimates, making it the largest known object in the solar system beyond Neptune’s orbit.

Pluto’s size has been notoriously difficult to determine since its discovery in 1930 due to what NASA called “complicating factors from its atmosphere.”

“We are excited to finally lay this question to rest,” said Bill McKinnon, a scientist on the mission.

TIME BP oil spill

BP May Have Billions More to Pay, Even After Its $19 Billion Settlement

NBC News - Gulf Oil Spill
NBC NewsWire—NBC NewsWire via Getty Images The site of the oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform.

The oil giant reportedly faces tens of thousands of additional claims

Despite reaching an $18.7 billion settlement earlier this month, BP probably isn’t done shelling out money to resolve claims stemming from the energy giant’s disastrous 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BP is still facing compensation claims filed by tens of thousands of area businesses claiming that they suffered losses as a result of the oil spill.

BP’s recent massive settlement resolved all federal and state claims that came out of the Deepwater Horizon accident and included agreements with five Gulf Coast states — Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas — as well as more than 400 local governments. BP’s settlement also includes a $5.5 billion civil penalty to be paid over the next 15 years under the Clean Water Act. The company said in early July that the settlement brings the total amount BP has paid as a result of the 2010 oil spill to $53.8 billion.

But, the company is likely still on the hook for more money, with businesses lining up for compensation. According to the Financial Times, businesses filed more than 115,000 claims with the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center ahead of an early-June deadline for compensation claims. Thousands of those claims were either settled or thrown out, but FT reports that more than 60,000 claims have yet to be fully processed.

BP put aside more than $10.3 billion to cover the various compensation claims but, according to FT, the company may end up paying at least $2 billion more than that amount.

TIME Environment

Scientists Stumble Across Extinct Volcanoes Off Australia Coast

newly discovered volcanic peaks
CSIRO A map of the newly discovered volcanic peaks off Sydney, showing their depth relative to the surface.

The four volcanoes are 50 million years old and were found accidentally

Researchers in Australia went searching for miniature lobsters and found 2,000-foot volcanoes instead.

Marine biologists were mapping the sea floor searching for the nursery grounds of larval lobsters when they came upon four extinct volcanoes 150 miles off the coast of Sydney, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Volcano expert Richard Arculus of the Australian National University told the Sydney Morning Herald that the volcanoes, the largest of which is 5,000 feet across and over 2,000 feet tall, are at least 50 million years old.

“It’s ironic that we’re about to get the first close-up pictures of Pluto but we had no idea about these beautiful volcanoes just off the coast of Sydney,” said Iain Suthers, a marine biologist at the University of New South Wales who led the expedition.

[Sydney Morning Herald]

TIME space

See an Unprecedented Close-Up of Pluto’s Surface


Geologists discover a 1,000 mile long band of "complex terrain" and a mysterious shadow the shape of a whale's tail

NASA unveiled new images of Pluto on Friday, revealing in unprecedented detail the craggy and mysterious features on the distant dwarf planet’s surface.

The images come from NASA’s New Horizons probe, which has been closing in on the planet at the outer edge of the solar system, some 2.9 billion miles away from Earth.

“We’re close enough now that we’re just starting to see Pluto’s geology,” said New Horizons program scientist Curt Niebur in a public statement.

NASA geologists have taken a keen interest in a roughly 1,000 mile band of dimpled terrain, running from east to west across the planet’s surface, as well as a dark patch, in the shape of a whale’s tail, where the geological features appear especially complex.


The image comes only one day after the probe snapped the first family portrait of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

“After nine and a half years in flight, Pluto is well worth the wait,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern.

TIME animals

Your Risk for Shark Attack Is Lower Now Than 50 Years Ago

In California, a beachgoer is about 1,800 times more likely to die of drowning than a shark attack, a new study finds

The probability of suffering a shark attack in California has declined by more than 91% since the 1950s, according to new research that could help guide attack prevention efforts.

In 2013, a shark attack occurred for every 738 million beach visits by swimmers in California, according to the study to be published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Surfers had a much higher chance—one in 17 million—of being attacked. A total of 86 attacks caused injury in California between 1950 and 2013, and only 13 of those were fatal.

The absolute number of shark attacks rose over time, but a dramatic increase in human visits to the beach offset the number of attacks. About 7,000 surfers visited California beaches in 1950, for instance. By 2013, that figure ballooned to more than 872,000. The number of beachgoers also rose; it tripled from the 1950s to about 165 million in 2013.

Read More: This Graphic Shows Where Sharks Attack Most in the U.S.

“A shark attack here is really a low probability event—you really have more of a chance to win the lottery than being bitten by a shark,” said study author Francesco Ferretti, a marine ecologist and researcher at Stanford University. “But, nonetheless, when these events happen they can result in tragedies.”

Ferretti attributed the decline in shark attacks, at least in part, to conservation of traditional prey like sea lions and seals. Sharks have drifted less into human territory along beaches as they focused on hunting prey elsewhere, he said.

The research follows a spate of highly publicized shark attacks that have struck fear into U.S. beachgoers, especially those in North Carolina. Researchers say it’s important not to allow events like these to lead to snap judgments about how to deal with sharks. In some places like Western Australia, policymakers have responded to attacks with calls for shark culls, or mass killings of the marine animal. Research hasn’t shown the killing to reduce shark attacks, Ferretti says. Furthermore, sharks play an important role atop the food chain in the marine ecosystem.

And, though the study notes that a beachgoer is about 1,800 times more likely to die of drowning than a shark attack, Ferretti says there are still basic safety precautions they should follow. Hanging out on the beach is safer in the spring than in the fall, he says, and it’s important to avoid hot spots where sharks are feeding, especially if you’re wearing a wetsuit (which makes you look like a seal.)

“I wouldn’t suggest for a surfer to go surfing near an elephant seal colony because the sharks are around there and they’re hunting,” said Ferretti. “We dress like seals and we go in the ocean. It’s no wonder this big animal can make mistakes.”

TIME space

Pluto Poses With Largest Moon in Cosmic Family Photo

New Horizons was about 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) from Pluto and Charon when it snapped this portrait late on July 8, 2015. Color information obtained earlier in the mission from the Ralph instrument has been added.
NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI New Horizons was about 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) from Pluto and Charon when it snapped this portrait late on July 8, 2015. Color information obtained earlier in the mission from the Ralph instrument has been added.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft took the image

As NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft inches closer to the icy planet Pluto, unprecedented images of its surface and moon have emerged.

On Thursday, NASA revealed images of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, shedding light on new details about the surface of the dwarf planet and its moon.

The two celestial bodies have little in common despite existing in harmony for billions of years. The dwarf planet is home to “exotic ices” ranging from nitrogen to carbon monoxide, NASA says, while its moon carries frozen water and ammonia.

New Horizons will soon wrap its nearly decade long mission to get close to Pluto. It is scheduled to pass the planet on July 14.

TIME weather

Strong El Niño Set to Bring California Drought Relief

California Drought Water Cuts
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Irrigation pipes sit along a dried irrigation canal on a farm near Stockton, Calif. on May 18, 2015.

For California, the relief couldn't come soon enough

El Niño has strengthened and will likely peak in the late fall and last until the spring, bringing much-needed relief to regions in California affected by drought, federal weather officials said Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said there is now a 90% chance that El Niño will last through the winter and an 80% chance it will last into spring 2016.

“The stronger this event becomes, the more confident that next winter we’ll see stronger precipitation in California and the whole southwestern United States,” said Mike Halpert, an official at NOAA.

In previous strong El Niño events, California has seen a 150% to 200% increase in rainfall compared to average years, according to Halpert. Peak rainfall during El Niño typically occurs in late fall or early winter. At the same time, parts of the U.S. located far from the Western seaboard may experience a decline in precipitation.

For California, though, the relief couldn’t come soon enough. The state received the least precipitation in decades in 2014, following years of similarly low rain levels. Still, despite the strong predictions, Halpert says it’s worth withholding excitement over the storm. “There’s still a little ways to go before we get to where this event should peak,” he said.

Read More: Why Some California Cities Are Bracing for a Bear Invasion

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