NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Zips Past Pluto in Flyby

Jul 14, 2015

by Kenneth Chang

It was like New Year’s Eve in Times Square as the countdown clock ticked down to zero.

“We’re going to do our 10-9-8 thing and you can get your flags out,” S. Alan Stern, the principal investigator for NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto told the people gathered here at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which is operating the mission. “We’re going to go absolutely ape.”

About 7:50 a.m. Tuesday, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its closest pass by Pluto, coming within 7,800 miles of the surface.

The crowd, which included the children of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930, cheered.

As soon as it arrived, New Horizons was leaving, speeding along its trajectory at 31,000 miles per hour.

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8 comments on “NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Zips Past Pluto in Flyby

  • The present images have been taken on the approach to the Pluto system.
    Hopefully the New Horizons probe will get higher resolution images from closer as it whizzes past Pluto and its moons. It is expected to transmit them to Earth after the intense period of close approach is over.

    We have to hope that there is nothing in the way to impact the craft on its passage through this system and on into the Kuiper Belt to look at other orbiting bodies. The fact that a dwarf planet as small as Pluto can retain various moons, could imply the presence of other material weakly tied to its gravity.
    Will the New Horizons spacecraft survive its closest approach to Pluto and return useful images and data? Humanity will know in a few hours. Regardless of how well it functions, New Horizon’s rapid speed will take it whizzing past Pluto and its moons today, with the time of closest approach being at 11:50 UT (7:50 am EDT). To better take images and data, though, the robotic spacecraft was preprogrammed and taken intentionally out of contact with the Earth until about 1:00 am UT July 15, which corresponds to about 9:00 pm EDT on July 14. Therefore, much of mankind will be holding its breath through this day, hoping that the piano-sized spacecraft communicates again with ground stations on Earth. Hopefully, at that time, New Horizons will begin beaming back new and enlightening data about a world that has remained remote and mysterious since its discovery 85 years ago.

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  • Stafford Gordon
    Jul 15, 2015 at 4:08 am

    I sometimes think that I’ve remained behind the curve ever since.

    You are probably ahead of some of the media so-called science correspondents, who irritate me by making comments such as:-
    “We have explored all the planets of the Solar-System”.
    “Pluto is at the edge of the Solar-System”.
    ” Pluto is the last planet to be visited by NASA”.
    “The Kuiper-Belt is a ring at the edge of the Solar System”!

    They seem clueless about the other dwarf planets and the Oort Cloud!
    There are 5 officially recognised dwarf planets in our solar system, they are Ceres, Pluto, Haumea, Makemake and Eris. With the exception of Ceres, which is located in the asteroid belt, the other dwarf planets are found in the outer solar system. There are another 6 objects in our solar system that are almost certainly dwarf planets and there may as many as 10,000. Currently none of the dwarf planets have been visited by space probes, though in 2015 NASA’s Dawn and New Horizons missions will reach Ceres and Pluto respectively.

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  • That’s charitable of you Alan, but I’m afraid you’re mistaken.

    An enthusiastic individual himself, who at the time was as thin as rake, Moore was trying to enthuse yours truly, but in my case it was too much too soon.

    Mias, ainsa va la vie.

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