PLUTO! We have arrived!
Today’s the day! 9 and a half years! NASA NewHorizons has made it to Pluto!
“Space, the final frontier!”
The dwarf planet Pluto is 3.26 billion miles away at the very edge of the solar system, and has never been seen in detail. After a nine-year journey, the New Horizons probe will pass closer to the surface than any other has ever before, passing within 7,767 miles of Pluto at 12.49pm UK time. (4:49am PST)
Moving faster than any spacecraft ever built at a speed of about 30,800 miles per hour, the nuclear-powered New Horizons, about the size of a baby grand piano, snapped pictures of Pluto as it hurtled by on auto-pilot. The photos will reveal details of Pluto never seen before in the history of space travel.
The closest pictures ever captured of dwarf planet Pluto will be beamed back to Earth today when US spacecraft New Horizons makes its historic fly-by. For much of the day, New Horizons will be out of communication with mission control as it gathers data about Pluto and its moons.
The moment of closest approach will be marked during the live NASA TV broadcast that includes a countdown and discussion of what’s expected next as New Horizons makes its way past Pluto and potentially dangerous debris and into the Kuiper Belt and Deep Space.
NASA TV will share the suspenseful moments of this historic event with the public and museums around the world. The New Horizons spacecraft will send a preprogrammed signal after the closest approach. The mission team on Earth should receive the signal later in the day when New Horizons “phones home”.
Pluto sports a reddish-orange hue, while Charon is quite gray. At 750 miles (1,200 km) in diameter, Charon is about half as wide as Pluto.
Pluto has four other very small moons: Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx. Nix is about 20 miles (35 km) wide, while Hydra turns out to be approximately 30 miles (45 km) in diameter.
NASA’s New Horizons mission observations have already shown the dwarf planet’s surface is a complex blend of bright and dark features, and provided data measuring Pluto at 1,473 miles (2,370 kilometers) in diameter. Previous estimates had put its radius at 1,430 miles (2,301 km).
The feature previously thought to be a polar cap has been confirmed to consist of methane and nitrogen ice. The pole differs in composition from the dark features around the dwarf planet’s equator.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will reach Pluto on July 14, 2015, exactly 50 years after the first robotic visit to Mars. On July 14, 1965, NASA’s Mariner 4 probe flew by the Red Planet, the first spacecraft ever to capture up-close looks at another planet. (Mariner 2 gathered data but no images when it zoomed past Venus in December 1962.)
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