Why Hello, Pluto
NASA’s New Horizons probe is finally in the first stages of its encounter with Pluto!
This is extremely exciting because it is the beginning of a mission that will include the first flyby of the dwarf planet in human history. The flyby will take place on July 14, 2015 when pluto is 4.67 billion miles away from us.
That is literally billions and billions of miles away. (1.17 Sagans to be exact)
When it launched nearly a decade ago in January of 2006 New Horizons was the fastest spacecraft ever. One month ago it woke up from its final hibernation period.
On January 25, the probe has a scheduled observation of Pluto using long-distance lenses which will give new information about the dynamics of Pluto’s five moons: Charon, Styx, Hydra, Nix, and Kerberos.
This is the longest journey any spacecraft has taken to reach its initial destination. The piano-sized probe will take pictures using the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager telescope for the next few months to improve distance estimates of the proximity of the spaceship to Pluto. The images will not look like much more than bright pinpoints until May, though navigators will be able to begin implementing course correcting maneuvers in March.
After the flyby, New Horizons will still have plenty of work to do; the probe will use Pluto’s gravity to gain additional speed for the remainder of the mission into the outer Solar System. New Horizons will observe any Kuiper Belt objects it may encounter through 2020. The official end of the mission is slated for 2026.
I will keep you updated as we reach more milestones this year. Though the internet is sure to be buzzing when we finally start receiving the first images of that cold, dark little dwarf planet.
Also, fun fact: the CPU guiding New Horizons is the processor from a Sony Playstation.
Source: NASA Press Release
Image Credit: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI/Steve Gribben