Monday, July 13, 2015

New Horizons’ Pluto flyby on 14 July

After a 9½ years journey, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will visit tomorrow 14 July 2015 the dwarf planet Pluto. This will be the first ever flyby of Pluto and its largest moon Charon.

During the fly-by (a 24-hour event), New Horizons will collect photographs and scientific data on Pluto’s surface, atmosphere and environment. New Horizons is intended to pass within 12,500 km (7,800 miles) of Pluto, with this closest approach date estimated to occur on July 14, 2015 at 11:50 UTC. New Horizons will have a relative velocity of 13.78 km/s (49,600 km/h; 30,800 mph) at its closest approach, and will come as close as 28,800 km (17,900 miles) to Charon.

The spacecraft will not go into orbit around Pluto because, as explained on New Horizons website, "to get to Pluto (which is 5 billion kilometers from Earth) in just 9.5 years the spacecraft travelled very, very quickly. As a result, New Horizons will speed by Pluto at a velocity of about 43,000 kilometers per hour(27,000 miles per hour). To get into orbit, operators would have to reduce that speed by over 90%, which would require more than 1,000 times the fuel that New Horizons can carry. The second reason is scientific: If we did stop to go into orbit, we wouldn't be able to go on to explore the Kuiper Belt!"

Click on the images below to see a graphical guide to the historic mission made by Nature magazine.

Below you can find a selection of the best images of Pluto & Charon taken by New Horizons during the weeks preceding the 14 July fly-by (click on each image for a bigger version).

Pluto and Charon rotation sequence. The images were taken May 28-June 3, 2015. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Pluto as seen from New Horizons on July 07, 2015. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Pluto and Charon as seen from New Horizons on July 08, 2015. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Pluto as seen from New Horizons on July 11, 2015. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Charon as seen from New Horizons on July 11, 2015. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Below the fly-by animation (made by Björn Jónsson using New Horizons' data) showing the fly-by trajectory from 09:36UT to 13:36UT. Closest approach 11:50UT (Charon not included in the animation).

This blog will be updated as soon as new images and news will arrive so stay tuned!

UPDATE - July 14, 2015 @10:00UT

Less than 2 hours left to the Pluto flyby by New Horizons spacecraft. Google is celebrating today historic Pluto flyby with its own Google Doodle. (click on the image below for a bigger version).

Below you can see the last and most detailed image of Pluto sent to Earth before the moment of closest approach! "This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach."

UPDATE - July 15, 2015 @20:00UT

Below you can see the amazing first close-up photographs of Pluto and its largest moon Charon + an image of smaller moon Hydra sent back to the Earth by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft a day after its successful flyby (click on each image for a bigger version).

New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise -- a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body. Credits: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI

Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image. Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

New Horizons measured the size of Hydra, one of Pluto’s small moons, which is 43km wide and 33km tall. The moon is so reflective that it is likely composed of water ice. Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRIAggiungi didascalia

The latest spectra from New Horizons Ralph instrument reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences from place to place across the frozen surface of Pluto. Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

By Ernesto Guido