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人类首次近窥冥王星

更新时间:2015-7-16 15:12:12 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

Pluto as New Horizons Saw It: Up Close and Personal
人类首次近窥冥王星

LAUREL, Md. — The first close-up image snippet of Pluto revealed mountains as tall as some of the Rockies, and a complete absence of craters — discoveries that ecstatically baffled scientists working on NASA’s New Horizons mission and provided emphatic punctuation for an effort nine and a half years and three billion miles in the making.

马里兰州劳雷尔——在冥王星的第一张特写照片中,可以看到高度类似落基山脉的高山,而且完全没有陨石坑——这些发现令美国国家航空航天局(NASA)“新视野号”(New Horizons)任务的科学家们狂喜而迷惑,也为这个耗时九年半、航程接近30亿英里的任务写下了浓墨重彩的一笔。

Pluto until a few weeks ago was a blurry dot, albeit a blurry dot known to have bright and dark regions. Within the last couple of days, it has been transformed into a dynamic world with varied geography, discoveries that point to possiblity of ice volcanoes and churning tectonics within. All of the new information could provide clues to how planets form and even the origins of some of the building blocks of life.

几周前,冥王星还是一个模糊的点,尽管我们已知它有亮区和暗区。在过去数天中,它已经变得清晰起来,成为了一个动态的世界,有多样的地貌,新的发现显示可能会有冰火山存在,并且里面有地质构造处于变化之中。这些新信息可能会提供线索,让我们更好地了解行星是如何形成的,甚至了解生命构成物质的起源。

“I don’t think any one of us could have imagined that this could have been a better toy store,” S. Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator, said during a news conference on Wednesday.

“我认为,这个‘玩具店’的美妙超过了我们所有人的想象,”该任务的首席研究员S·艾伦·斯特恩(S. Alan Stern)本周三在一个新闻发布会上表示。

Earlier in the day, the spacecraft sent back the first batch of a bountiful trove of data that it had collected during its close flyby of Pluto on Tuesday. Dr. Stern said the rooms where teams got their first look at the images were “something close to bedlam.”

当天早些时候,飞船发回了它本周二飞掠冥王星时收集的首批数据,内容相当丰富。斯特恩博士说,团队成员第一次看到照片时,房间里变得“像疯人院似的”。

A day before, NASA had released a mesmerizing image of the full 1,472-mile-wide disc of Pluto, highlighted by a bright heart-shaped swath of terrain. The newer image, taken as New Horizons zoomed within 7,800 miles of the surface, focused on a much smaller patch, about 150 miles across, near the bottom of the heart shape, and captured features as small as a half a mile across.

前一天,NASA发布了一张迷人的“全身照”,显示了冥王星宽1472英里的圆盘形象,其中有一处明亮的心形地形非常显眼。“新视野号”发回的新照片是在距离冥王星表面7800英里的范围内拍摄的,聚焦在一个宽约150英里、位于心形区域底部附近的较小区域上,并捕捉到精细到半英里的地貌。

The first surprise was the rugged topography — mountains up to 11,000 feet high. But these mountains are almost certainly made of frozen water instead of rock. “There may be higher ones elsewhere,” said John Spencer, an investigator on the mission.

第一个惊喜是其起伏的地形——山脉高达1.1万英尺。但这些山几乎肯定是由冻结的水形成的,而不是岩石结构。“其他地方可能还有更高的山,”该任务的研究员约翰·斯宾塞(John Spencer)说。

That was a surprise, because observations of Pluto from Earth have not found any signs of water ice. Frozen nitrogen and methane have been detected, but those ices are too weak to be bent and lifted into mountains.

这是一个惊喜,因为从地球上观测冥王星时,科学家没有发现水冰迹象。以前倒是检测到过冻结的氮气和甲烷,但这些气体冰不够强韧,无法弯曲隆起形成山脉。

New Horizons took measurements that should be able to confirm that the mountains are frozen water, but that data remains on the spacecraft, to stream back over the next year and a half. Dr. Stern, however, had no doubt. “We can be very sure the water is there in great abundance,” he said.

“新视野号”进行的测量应该能证实那些山是固态的水,但那些数据还在探测器上,要一年半以后才能传输回来。不过斯特恩毫不怀疑。“我们非常确定那里有大量的水,”他说。

A second surprise was that the dwarf planet’s surface was unmarred by craters. “We have not yet found a single impact crater in this image,” Dr. Spencer said.

第二个令人惊讶的地方是,这颗矮行星的表面未受到陨石坑的破坏。“在这张照片上,我们一个陨石坑都没发现,”斯宾塞说。

Collisions happen everywhere in the solar system. Planetary astronomers count craters to determine whether a surface is ancient, formed billions of year ago and then pockmarked by impact craters over the eons, or young, a smooth expanse that formed recently, erasing the impact craters. Dr. Spencer said the lack of craters suggested that this part of Pluto’s surface was less than 100 million years old, extremely young given the 4.5-billion-year age of the solar system.

在太阳系,到处都在发生碰撞。行星天文学家会通过数陨石坑,来确定星球的表面是古老还是年轻。古老的表面形成于数十亿年前,然后会在极漫长的时间流逝中留下陨石坑的痕迹。年轻的表面会有大片形成不久的平滑区域,消除了陨石坑的痕迹。斯宾塞称,没有陨石坑表明冥王星的这一部分地表年龄不到1亿岁,考虑到太阳系45亿岁的年龄,这算是极其年轻的。

Other features on the surface were so unusual that he found it difficult to describe them in geological terms. When asked about perplexing features in the lower right part of the image, he stumbled and said, “It’s like piles of stuff with grooves on it.”

冥王星地表的其他特征也非常与众不同,导致斯宾塞发现难以用地质学概念描述它们。被问及照片右下方那些令人费解的特征时,他困惑地说,“像是一堆堆有凹槽的东西。”

Dr. Spencer also announced that the team had decided to informally name the heart feature Tombaugh Regio, after Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930. (Regio is Latin for “region.”)

斯宾塞还宣布,该团队已决定用在1930年发现冥王星的天文学家克莱德·汤博(Clyde Tombaugh)的名字,将那个心形地带命名为汤博地区(Tombaugh Regio)。(Regio是拉丁语“地区”的意思。)

On Tuesday night, celebrating the success of the flyby, members of the mission team held up a large poster of a stamp that the United States Postal Service issued in 1991: “Pluto: Not Yet Explored.”

周二晚上,在庆祝飞越成功时,探测任务团队的成员举起了一幅大海报,上面印着美国邮政署(United States Postal Service)在1991年发行的一枚邮票,邮票上着:“冥王星:有待探索。”

On the poster, the words “Not” and “Yet” were crossed out.

在海报上,“有待”两个字被划掉了。

John M. Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for the science mission directorate, said, “This is truly a hallmark in human history.”

NASA科学任务指挥署副署长约翰·M·格伦斯菲尔德(John M. Grunsfeld)说,“这真的是人类历史上的一个重大事件。”

More than capturing a close-up of Pluto, the mission is opening the door to a new neighborhood of the solar system that is bigger and stranger than the solar system that astronomers thought they had catalogued by the 1990s and the roster of planets memorized by schoolchildren that ended with an oddball iceball named Pluto.

这项任务不仅捕捉到了冥王星的特写,还在开辟太阳系里的一片新地带,相比90年代天文学家编录的那个太阳系,还有小学生都会背的、以古怪的冰球冥王星为结束的行星序列,现在这个太阳系更大、更陌生了。

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