NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Nears Historic July 14 Encounter with Pluto

Apr 21, 2015

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute


NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is three months from returning to humanity the first-ever close up images and scientific observations of distant Pluto and its system of large and small moons.

“Scientific literature is filled with papers on the characteristics of Pluto and its moons from ground based and Earth orbiting space observations, but we’ve never studied Pluto up close and personal,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut, and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington.  “In an unprecedented flyby this July, our knowledge of what the Pluto systems is really like will expand exponentially and I have no doubt there will be exciting discoveries.”

The fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons has traveled a longer time and farther away – more than nine years and three billion miles – than any space mission in history to reach its primary target. Its flyby of Pluto and its system of at least five moons on July 14 will complete the initial reconnaissance of the classical solar system. This mission also opens the door to an entirely new “third” zone of mysterious small planets and planetary building blocks in the Kuiper Belt, a large area with numerous objects beyond Neptune’s orbit.

The flyby caps a five-decade-long era of reconnaissance that began with Venus and Mars in the early 1960s, and continued through first looks at Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn in the 1970s and Uranus and Neptune in the 1980s.

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18 comments on “NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Nears Historic July 14 Encounter with Pluto

  • 1
    aroundtown says:

    I’ve been following this mission for some time now. Carolyn Porco is on the team and images from the mission are sure to stun I’m thinking. I went to the full article but you have to navigate to the mission site. I will post a direct link to the mission page for the countdown to the closest approach to Pluto.

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  • NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is three months from returning to humanity the first-ever close up images and scientific observations of distant Pluto and its system of large and small moons.

    The data and images on Pluto can only get better as the July 2015 fly-by approaches.

    However, we should not forget that other dwarf planet which is at present under scrutiny!
    The mysterious bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres are back in view.

    Nasa’s Dawn spacecraft, which arrived at the mini-world on 6 March, is now settling into its first science orbit some 13,500km above the surface.

    The probe’s approach took it around the back of the dwarf and on to the night side, hiding the spots from the camera system and remote sensing instruments.

    But with each passing day, Dawn is seeing more sun-lit terrain – including now its most enigmatic features.

    The newly released sequence of images were acquired a week ago when the probe was still some 22,000km from the surface.

    Nonetheless, they clearly show the brightest spot and its companion standing out against the darker landscape.

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  • 3
    aroundtown says:

    Thanks for the reminder of the other elements that have come up during the new horizon mission. I appreciate that science asks that all important “why” and then moves on to finding an answer. The resultant explanation for the bright spots on Ceres are going to be interesting.

    The upcoming missions to other locations in our solar system are on the horizon too. The Jupiter missions are going to amaze I’m thinking. Personally I hope to be around for the results from the mission to the moons of Jupiter.

    The Juno mission will arrive in 2016, and the moons mission is slated for arrival in 2030

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  • I love science. God created an amazing and awesome Universe, and He gave us science to be able to better know His universe, better understand it, and therefore ENJOY it!

    Well if he did create the universe, then he isn’t a very good scientist. Take you for example. If he submitted you to his science teacher for assessment, he would probably get a C- for his design for Homo Sapiens. Simple engineering things like one pipe for air and food? What was he thinking. The recurrent Larangyl Nerve, the one that allows you to speak, runs from your neck, right alongside your larynx, all the way down into your chest, around your Aorta, back up your next to your larynx. IN a Giraffe, that is nearly a five metre detour. What the…. Ron. You need to justify this design flaw in god’s plan.

    If you support a C Grade god, then fine. The other alternative is there is no god, and evolution is responsible, because it can explain these design flaws.

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  • David, I guess I don’t understand your premise. Are you arguing that because the human body appears to you, or me, to have not been designed in the most optimal fashion, that there is no God? Or are you making a claim about the character of God? And regarding evolution, it is certainly not logically impossible for God to have directed the evolutionary process.

    Besides, where are we going with this anyway? Even if I somehow convinced you that it was OK to worship a God who designed our bodies apparent “flaws,” wouldn’t we be heading for the inevitable argument based on the presence of evil and suffering, or eternal punishment? No? 🙂 Methinks we would…..

    (are there no emoticons on this website? not a smiley face to be found?)

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  • to have not been designed in the most optimal fashion, that there is no God?

    No. Only that it seems that if god did this very poor job of design, then he’s hardly the omnipotent / omniscient god worthy of praise and devotion. You have a choice. If you god is perfect, then our design means he doesn’t exist. If you accept our design, explained by evolution, then your god is very much a minor figure, so minor that he can be erased from the white board.

    it is certainly not logically impossible for God to have directed the evolutionary process.

    If god did direct the evolutionary process and we are the defective results, then what does that say about god’s abilities. What does that say about his opinion of us, to make us choke with only one air and food entrance. Nasty I’d say.

    Why give us wisdom teeth? Before dentistry, impacted wisdom teeth were massively painful and even lethal with infected jaws. So what was god thinking hiding that extra set of molars way back in our jaw. The alternative explanation is that a few million years ago, our jaw was longer, as evidenced by the fossils, and our diet required us to grind a lot more vegetable matter. Observation fits evidence. Which do you say is correct Ron. God. Or evolution. Or are you going to be a deist that performs mental gymnastics and tries to square the circle.

    p.s. There are around 200 easily identifiable design faults in the human body, that no rational engineer would commit.

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  • RonHill
    Apr 22, 2015 at 12:27 am

    Even if I somehow convinced you that it was OK to worship a God who designed our bodies apparent “flaws,”

    Worshipping delusions of fantasy parent figures, is just one of the malfunctions of some of the human design flaws enabling pack and herd activity with leadership.

    studies of Buddhist meditators and Franciscan nuns with normal brain function have shown that people can learn to minimize the functioning of the right side of their brains to increase their spiritual connections during meditation and prayer.
    In addition, Johnstone measured the frequency of participants’ religious practices, such as how often they attended church or listened to religious programs. He measured activity in the frontal lobe and found a correlation between increased activity in this part of the brain and increased participation in religious practices.

    Humans and the Earth are a very small and insignificant percentage of a universe, which works just fine without gods fiddling with it.

    It is our understanding of the Heliocentric Solar-System, which debunked the mythology of “gapologist” heavenly sky-fairies above the clouds.

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  • **Moderator message **

    There are currently several threads where a discussion about the plausibility or otherwise of god claims would be on topic. May we ask you to continue this discussion on one of those please.

    Thank you.

    The mods

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  • There are also new developments as the monitoring by Rosetta continues as the comet warms.
    Europe’s Rosetta probe has caught its comet quarry in the act of producing a huge jet of gas and dust.

    The 4km-wide icy dirt-ball known as 67P is now throwing off copious amounts of material as it warms up on its journey in towards the Sun.

    Rosetta is keeping a safe distance, but continuing to image the evolving body.

    ESA and NASA, are collecting lots of data on outer Solar-Solar-System bodies which can be compared for analysis.

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  • 10
    RonHill says:

    Sorry mods, I’m new to the sight. I will keep that in mind for next time. I’m sure this topic comes up all the time, and I will try to stay on topic. 🙂

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  • 11
    aroundtown says:

    You always bring something new to the table Alan. Missed that one and I have the freaking site bookmarked. I’m slipping up me thinks. Thanks for that one.

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  • 12
    aroundtown says:

    Wow, just checked that out from your post, impressive. I wonder what will happen as it gets closer to Perihelion, 111 days to go. I have bookmarked this site and check occasionally. I’m still interested in the mission regardless of the lander problem.

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  • Meanwhile, in the inner Solar-System, Nasa’s MESSENGER mission has ended.
    Because of the Sun’s gravity, it is impossible for a satellite or moon to maintain a stable orbit around Mercury, so when this probe ran out of fuel, it was no longer able to maintain an orbit and as its orbit became elliptical/eccentric, it crashed into the planet.
    NASA’S MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft has ended its phenomenally successful mission in the most fitting manner imaginable. The probe, which had maintained a lonely vigil over the desolate planet for more than four years, smashed into the surface of Mercury, the planet that had surrendered countless secrets to the robotic explorer this Thursday at 3:26:02 pm EDT.

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  • It’s getting nearer!
    Probe spies Pluto’s faint moons

    The New Horizons probe, heading for its historic flyby of Pluto in July, has now caught sight of all the known faint moons of the dwarf planet.

    They have been revealed in new images downlinked from the Nasa spacecraft, which is still some 90 million km from reaching the distant world.

    Hydra and Nix were seen previously, but New Horizons can also now resolve Kerberos and Styx.

    Pluto’s fifth known moon, Charon, is much larger and brighter.

    By comparison, it is relatively easy to detect, although in the new image-set just released it is burnt out with Pluto at the centre of the frame.

    Pluto has a diameter of about 2,300km; Charon is half that. Hydra may reach over 100km.

    But the girths of the other three moons are probably just a few tens of km at most, and getting their faint forms to appear in the pictures from New Horizons’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (Lorri) means over-exposing Pluto and Charon.

    It is only because of its extreme distance from the Sun, that Pluto’s weak gravity is able to retain a collection of moons.

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  • New horizons is getting nearer with pictures clearer!

    New Horizons snaps Pluto from eight million km

    “Right now they’re just showing us that Pluto is really weird. It’s got some extremely dark areas, some extremely bright areas, and we don’t know what any of them are yet,” Dr Spencer told Newshour on the BBC World Service.

    He and his colleagues believe the brightest patch might be covered in frozen carbon monoxide, while the dark swathe may be a deposit of hydrocarbons, burnt out of Pluto’s atmosphere by UV light and cosmic rays.

    But this is all guesswork at the moment.

    “We will get pictures 500 times better than this next Tuesday, when we have our closest approach,” Dr Spencer said.

    When it arrives at the dwarf planet, New Horizons will be travelling at almost 14km/s – far too fast to go into orbit.

    Instead, it will execute an automated, pre-planned reconnaissance, grabbing as many pictures and other data as it can as it barrels past the 2,300km-wide dwarf and its five known moons: Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra.

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  • dwarf planet

    Let’s see if all news media correctly dubs it thus. N dG Tyson explains the re-classification in his book ‘Pluto Files’.

    heart-shaped area

    D’oh(!), so obvious yet I missed it. APOD.

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