Flyby of Pluto: a towering event for a dwarf planet

Now we’re seeing the very last one. Check back here for frequent updates.

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is the first probe sent to Pluto, and it’s scheduled to arrive in July 2015.

NASA is starting its countdown for the most awaited discovery. [See the Latest Pluto Photos by New Horizons].

The $700 million unmanned spacecraft has seven sophisticated science instruments and cameras that are collecting data daily and sending it back to Earth.

“I’m widely known as the guy who killed Pluto“, he said. Chasms and possible craters scar a dark, barren landscape.

“It’s nearly an anti-polar cap”, he said. They also plan to measure the temperature and pressure in Pluto’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere and determine how much gas is escaping into space.

A piece of SpaceShipOne has also been attached to New Horizons.

New Horizons is zipping toward Pluto, the smallest and most distant planet in our solar system (736 miles across and 3 billion miles away, orbiting the sun only every 248 years). The spots are related to a dark belt that circles Pluto’s equatorial region.

➤ Eyes on Pluto [NASA JPL].

You can watch what it sees, how it maneuvers and what it’s now scanning.

It was launched from Cape Canaveral on January 19 2006, on board an Atlas V rocket. This is the image facing the Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. This makes it important for Horizon to know how far is Pluto.

Thanks to all of our giant Earth- and space-based telescopes, we already have a good idea of what Pluto looks like and its general composition.

When Pluto was discovered in 1930, it was a dot on a photograph.

New Horizons better and better views reveal a copper-colored, icy bright world. The annotated version includes a diagram showing Charon’s north pole, equator, and central meridian, with the features highlighted.

Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. delivered a device nicknamed “Ralph”, the imaging instrument providing guidance for the New Horizons mission.

As the image below shows, New Horizons travels past Pluto and through its shadow, then has a close encounter with Charon (at a distance of 17, 895 miles), Pluto’s largest and closest Moon, also travelling through its shadow. Instead, its path has been carefully chosen so that it will pass at high speed within 12,500 kilometres of the surface of the dwarf-planet. Way back on November 28, 1964 Mariner IV, a state -of-the-art craft for its time (with less computer capability than an old flip phone) launched and set off to give us our first glimpse of another planet via spacecraft. Nonetheless, the probe was still able to work fine and will reach its destination on time.

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It means the probe can not be controlled in real time and it will be working to an automated command sequence.

New Horizons' Long, Dark, Amazing Journey to Pluto...And Beyond | WIRED