NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Begins First Stages of Pluto Encounter

Jan 16, 2015

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By NASA

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft recently began its long-awaited, historic encounter with Pluto. The spacecraft is entering the first of several approach phases that culminate July 14 with the first close-up flyby of the dwarf planet, 4.67 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) from Earth.

“NASA first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind’s first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly.”

The fastest spacecraft when it was launched, New Horizons lifted off in January 2006. It awoke from its final hibernation period last month after a voyage of more than 3 billion miles, and will soon pass close to Pluto, inside the orbits of its five known moons.

In preparation for the close encounter, the mission’s science, engineering and spacecraft operations teams configured the piano-sized probe for distant observations of the Pluto system that start Sunday, Jan. 25 with a long-range photo shoot.


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10 comments on “NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Begins First Stages of Pluto Encounter

  • The spacecraft is entering the first of several approach phases that culminate July 14 with the first close-up flyby of the dwarf planet,

    for distant observations of the Pluto system that start Sunday, Jan. 25 with a long-range photo shoot.

    This should provide interesting comparisons of other outer Solar-System objects with the Rosetta Comet mission.



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  • While Pluto and its moons are the prime targets, they are not the end of the mission!

    http://news.discovery.com/space/tally-ho-on-targets-for-new-horizons-after-pluto-141020.htm

    Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have located at least one and possibly three Kuiper Belt objects that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft can reach after its flyby Pluto next year.

    “After years of searching, my team and I have found a world in the Kuiper Belt for New Horizons to visit after Pluto!,” astronomer Alex Parker, with the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., posted on Twitter.

    “In fact, we may have up to three Kuiper Belt Objects to choose from, but the other two require further follow-up to confirm,” he wrote.

    The best target, known as “Potential Target 1,” is in a near-circular orbit around the sun and flying 44 times as far from the sun as Earth. The object is “several tens of kilometers,” in diameter, Parker noted.

    “The two other (potential targets) are brighter (hence, larger) objects, so if they are confirmed targetable, they may beat PT1 in the final selection,” he wrote.



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  • This will also give interesting comparisons with the images of Vesta and Ceres from the NASA Dawn Probe.

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/dawn/main/#.VMY7DCwR9Vl
    Dawn will be captured into Ceres’ orbit in March, marking the first visit to a dwarf planet by a spacecraft. To date, the best images of Ceres come from the Hubble Space Telescope. In early 2015, however, Dawn will begin delivering images at much higher resolution.

    Since launching in 2007, Dawn has already visited Vesta, a giant protoplanet currently located 104 million miles (168 million kilometers) away from Ceres. The distance between Vesta and Ceres is greater than the distance between the Earth and the sun. During its 14 months in orbit around Vesta, the spacecraft delivered unprecedented scientific insights, including images of its cratered surface and important clues about its geological history. Vesta and Ceres are the two most massive bodies in the main asteroid belt.



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  • I see the “Dawn” probe, is getting closer to its orbital mission and is producing clearer photos of Ceres.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-31156589
    .The American space agency’s (Nasa) Dawn satellite has just returned its latest images of Ceres.

    The probe is bearing down on the dwarf planet, and expects to go into orbit around the 950km-wide body on 6 March.

    With every pixel representing 14km on the surface, these pictures are the best view yet of Ceres.

    Dawn is scheduled to spend 16 months studying the dwarf, which happens also to be the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.



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  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-31754586

    The US space agency’s Dawn probe has gone into orbit around Ceres, the largest object in the Solar System between Mars and Jupiter.

    A signal from the satellite confirming its status was received by ground stations at 13:36 GMT.

    Ceres is the first of the dwarf planets to be visited by a spacecraft.

    The satellite has turned up at Ceres having previously visited asteroid Vesta.

    Of the two, Ceres is the bigger at 950km across; Vesta has a diameter of 525km.



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