Up Close: NASA Spacecraft Zeroes In On Pluto

It was long thought Pluto was grey or blue but the probe’s pictures (the most detailed to date), which were taken from an estimated distance of five million miles on Tuesday, showed that may not be the case.


Nasa‘s New Horizons spacecraft has sent back new photos of Pluto revealing bright and dark terrain ahead of its highly-anticipated flyby of the planet on Tuesday 14 July. On July 8th, NASA released this impressive image of Pluto and its moon Charon. In fact, Charon doesn’t orbit Pluto in the same way our moon does Earth, but rather the pair of them share a central point of gravity and dance around that.

For what it’s worth, I think that we are now exploring a completely different class of planetary body, not based on its physical size, but on its unique configuration. During the close encounter with Pluto, New Horizons will focus on taking photographs and making measurements that should shed light on Pluto’s composition and its tenuous atmosphere. The probe has traveled more than 3 billion miles to reach Pluto.

“The next time we see this part of Pluto at closest approach, a portion of this region will be imaged at about 500 times better resolution than we see today”, said Jeff Moore, with NASA Ames Research Center. Debate continues in the astronomical community about whether or not Pluto should be considered a planet.

It’s been 85 years since Pluto’s discovery and it looks like we’re finally going to get some answers.

Stern disagrees with the IAU’s decision.

Everyone has heard of Pluto, the dwarf planet formerly known as the solar system’s 9th planet.

Next week is all about New Horizons and Pluto. Their jubiliation is caused by a spaceship that is billions of miles away from planet earth. Meanwhile, elements that are gasses on Earth – like carbon dioxide and nitrogen – are able to form liquids or even solids at those temperatures.

Pluto also is small, about the size of the United States, Stern said. As it passes Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra, scientists are really hoping for some glimpses and data of each moon.

New Horizons looks like a gold foil-covered grand piano. It weighed 1,054 pounds at launch. Though astronomers have not seen substantial dust rings around Pluto, particles knocked off the surface, or off its moons, could be trapped in Pluto’s orbit.

The Kuiper Belt has more than 100,000 objects of more than 100 kilometers in diameter.


“If we find clouds, their presence will allow us to track the speeds and directions of Pluto’s winds”, science team postdoc Kelsi Singer said in a statement. “But then the damage would be likely more severe”, he says.

TTU Assistant Professor Maurice Clark