The New Horizons Pluto mission is a big deal. Here are Some reasons why


SOURCE : vox.com 

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is about to show us an alien world for the first time. At precisely 7:49 am ET on Tuesday, the probe will become the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto.

New Horizons has been en route for nine years, traveling more than 3 billion miles. The flyby will be over in a matter of minutes, as the probe frantically takes hundreds of photos and collects data on Pluto’s atmosphere, geology, and moons. All this data will be enormously valuable to scientists as they seek to understand our solar system and how it formed billions of years ago.

More than anything, this mission is about broadening our horizons — taking in just a little bit more of the impossibly vast universe we live in.

1) We’ve never seen Pluto before

Pluto feels familiar. It’s easy to imagine the small, frigid rock, millions of miles from the sun and covered in ice.

But what you’re picturing in your head when you think about Pluto is probably an artist’s illustration. Until very recently, we didn’t even know exactly what color it was — and the best photos we had of Pluto looked like this:

pluto-hubble

New Horizons is going to change that in a very big way. Already, as it’s closed in on Pluto, it’s given us way better photos than ever before:

Screen_Shot_2015-07-13_at_2.11.02_PM.0

Pluto (right) and its moon Charon, as seen by New Horizons on July 11. (NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI)

The high-resolution photos to come will give us detailed topographical maps, just like those provided by the satellites that orbit Earth. They could reveal mountains, ice caps, volcanoes, or even an ocean of liquid water under the ice. “Who knows what kind of bizarre things we’ll find up close?” Stern said.

2) This mission will remind you how vast space really is

Pale-Blue-Dot

Earth, as seen by the Voyager spacecraft, from more than 4 billion miles away.

We spend our entire lives on the surface of Earth — so it’s hard to really grasp how far away Pluto truly is from us.

But as an analogy, think of Earth as a basketball. By comparison, Pluto would be a little larger than a golf ball. But if you wanted to keep the scale constant, you’d have to put that golf ball incredibly far away: 50 to 80 miles (depending on its location in orbit). This mission, like many activities in space, is a good reminder of how vast our corner of the universe is — and how absurdly tiny our entire earthly realm of experience is by comparison.

And it’s not just the size of space that boggles the mind. It’s also the timescale on which everything occurs. Pluto takes 248 Earth years to orbit the sun. To put it another way, the entirety of US history has occurred during a single Plutonian orbit.

3) We won’t get many more missions like this for a while

europa

There’s a mission to Europa planned, but it won’t reach the moon for a decade or more.

The past few decades have been filled with all sorts of fascinating missions to the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets of our solar system — uncrewed probes sent every few years, run by trained scientists, and supported by government funding.

But the sad truth is that this era is largely drawing to a close. As David W. Brown writes in an article on the dark future of American space exploration, “There is nothing budgeted in the pipeline to take its place. Yesterday invested in today. But we are not investing in tomorrow.”

This is the result of cutbacks to NASA’s planetary exploration budget. The OSIRIS-REx probe will launch next year, to travel to an asteroid and bring back a sample, but it won’t return until 2023. Meanwhile, a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa is in the works, but it likely won’t be launched until 2025 at the earliest, and wouldn’t reach Europa until the 2030s.

In other words: Enjoy this brief flyby. It’s going to be a while before any NASA probe visits a new world.

4)This is a staggering technological achievement

t’s hard to appreciate just how difficult it is to send a spacecraft to Pluto. But think of it this way: because it’s so incredibly far away, it took New Horizons nine years to cover the 3-billion-mile trip there — which means the craft is using decade-old technology, traveling a route that was calculated years ago.

Screen_Shot_2015-07-09_at_9.53.45_AM.0

New Horizons’ trajectory through the solar system.

Despite this, NASA engineers managed to get the tiny probe — about the size and shape of a grand piano — to an incredibly precise spot in space, using Jupiter’s gravity as a slingshot to accelerate it outward and a few thruster burns over the years to keep the probe on track.

Along the way, they had to worry about potentially damaging debris nearby Pluto — as well as a scary software glitch this past weekend, which was, thankfully, resolved. Now New Horizons is going to fly within 7,750 miles of Pluto, coming closer than its moons.

Because New Horizons is traveling at such a high speed (about 31,000 miles per hour) and can’t slow down, the flyby will be over in a matter of minutes — fording it to collect all its data in a tiny window of time.

And receiving all that data is another huge challenge. Because New Horizons is so far away, it takes about 4.5 hours for any data it sends back to reach Earth. And the signal is so faint that NASA has to use 200-foot-wide radio dishes (one each in Australia, California, and Spain) to pick it up. This means an extremely low rate of data transmission: about 1 kilobit per second, more than 50 times slower than a 56k modem from the ’90s. It takes more than 42 minutes for New Horizons to fully transmit an image that’s 1024 pixels wide.

If you haven’t been paying attention so far, now’s the time to start. This is a really big deal.

Advertisements

CHARON’S IMPACT CRATER EMERGES IN LATEST NEW HORIZONS SHOT


nh-7-13-15_charon_image_nasa-jhuapl-swri

NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

IN THE IMAGE NASA released of Charon yesterday, astronomers pointed out a collection of vaguely-defined features on the surface of Pluto’s biggest moon. Now, with this latest capture, the New Horizons team has confirmed that the big dent in the icy rock’s surface is in fact an impact crater, surrounded by a couple of deep canyons—one larger than Earth’s Grand Canyon.

Get ready for even more detailed images of Charon and its orbital buddy, Pluto, tomorrow morning when New Horizons makes its closest approach to the system. Geologists will be especially interested to take a closer look at the dark spot on the moon’s northern pole, and the rays of material you can see spraying out from the edges of the crater.

Source :Wired

New Horizons’ Pluto Approach Hyped in Epic Video


Dark Matter Space Blogger
150320-pluto2_b600bd933132594bba533231dbacf2fc.nbcnews-fp-1200-800

Artistic Depiction of Pluto 

The National Space Society put together an incredible video preview of the history-making moment. It has the vibe of a movie trailer, complete with epic narration and stunning visuals, and it perfectly captures why space enthusiasts are so psyched about the New Horizons mission.

The video sweeps you through a timeline of the last half century of space exploration using beautiful images of each planet we’ve explored, starting with Venus in 1962 and ending with Neptune in 1989.

New Horizons will reach Pluto and its moons on July 14, and they will be “the farthest worlds ever to be explored by humankind,” the video says.

So far that the sun appears as a faint dot.

Pluto-sun

Here is the Video,

Source : businessinsider

This Is The First Ever Color Picture of Pluto


ESO-L._Calçada_-_Pluto_(by)

New Horizons spacecraft is now only three months away from its historic sweep through the Pluto-Charon system in mid-July. First image in color!

pluto-charon-new-horizons-first-color-pic-April-2015-e1429094950538

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft acquired its first picture of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in color on April 9. It’s the first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach. Neither Pluto nor Charon is well resolved here, but their distinctly different appearances can already be seen. Image via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft team released this tantalizing first color image of Pluto and its Texas-sized moon Charon. The team called this image a preliminary reconstruction, which they said will be refined later. The spacecraft acquired the image from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers)-roughly the distance from the sun to Venus. New Horizons is now only three months from its historic encounter with Pluto. The flyby through the Pluto system will take place on July 14, at which time the spacecraft will deliver color images that eventually show surface features as small as a few miles across.

New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched and may be the only spacecraft to sweep past Pluto in our lifetimes. It has traveled a longer time and farther away – more than nine years and three billion miles (4.8 billion km) – than any space mission in history to reach the Pluto system, which consists of the dwarf planet and its five known moons.

NASA pointed out that New Horizons’ flyby of the Pluto system 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.

Principal investigator Alan Stern said the mission would mark the first up-close look at a binary planet. He called Pluto a binary because its large moon Charon is so nearly like Pluto in size.

new-horizons-pluto-doorstep-e1429096387565

Between now and July 14, New Horizons will get closer and closer to Pluto and its moons, and the image quality will rapidly improve. At closest approach, New Horizons will sweep through the Pluto system at a speed of 30,000 mph (50,000 kilometers per hour).

Source : EarthSky.org

NASA Begins Countdown to Pluto Flyby


NEW-HORIZONS-ALEX-PARKER

An artist’s impression of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, currently en route to Pluto; after nine years and a journey of 3 billion miles, NASA’s New Horizons robotic probe will be woken from hibernation to begin its unprecedented mission: the study of the icy dwarf planet Pluto and its home, the Kuiper Belt.

Today marks the beginning of the world’s encounter with Pluto, as a NASA spacecraft that has journeyed for nine years begins its first phrase of approach to the dwarf planet.

The spacecraft is still 135 million miles away from Pluto, but Thursday marks a significant day for NASA scientists as the beginning of a series of phases in which the spacecraft can start studying and capturing increasingly detailed images of the Pluto system.

In just under six months, the world will catches its first close-up glimpse of Pluto when NASA’s New Horizons zooms within 6,200 miles of the dwarf planet on July 14.

New Horizons has traveled three billion miles since its launch on January 19, 2006, according to NASA. That’s farther than any other other space exploration mission has ever gone to reach its primary target.

As with space missions before it, the New Horizons spacecraft is packed with interesting memorabilia, including two U.S. flags and some of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the American astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930.

The spacecraft has spent about two-thirds of the time since its launch (intermittently) “in hibernation” in order to reduce the wear and tear on equipment and minimize the risk of system failures. But on December 6 last year, the spacecraft came out of hibernation and switched into active mode for its final approach.

Continue reading NASA Begins Countdown to Pluto Flyby

After Nine Years, New Horizons is Finally at Pluto


Follow us on Google+ , Twitter and Facebook

ESO_-_Pluto-Charon_system_(by)

Artistic impression of Pluto and its moon Charon (Click Image to Download)

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to fully awaken from its final hibernation period on December 6 after a nine-year voyage to Pluto.

Once New Horizons awakens on December 6, it will transmit radio signals to mission control center located at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. The spacecraft will send a message to Earth confirming it remains operational an hour-and-a-half after it awakes. It will take four hours for its message to reach Earth, however, It’s scheduled to come to within 6,200 miles from the surface of Pluto on July 14, 2015, the closest approach to the planet by any man-made spacecraft.

The mission is man’s first visit beyond Neptune’s orbit and into the Kuiper Belt, which is home to Pluto and thousands of objects that have not yet been identified, according to website Spaceflight Now.

“This is the first look at this new zone of rocky, icy planets. This is what New Horizons is supposed to do,” said Michael Buckley, a public information officer for John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory to ABC News.

New Horizons is some 2.9 billion miles from our planet. It was launched in January 2006 as the payload of an Atlas V rocket. At the time of New Horizon’s launch, Pluto was still considered a planet. Scientists, however, demoted Pluto to a dwarf planet later that year.

The spacecraft has been in and out of hibernation 18 times over the last nine years to conserve power. New Horizons transmits a beep once a week to tell scientists it’s still alive.

Experts expect to get very clear images of Pluto once New Horizons gets within range of the planet in April 2015. They also expect to see the clearest view of the planet’s terrain by May. New Horizons will send home the data throughout 2015 and most of 2016.

Scientists hope NASA will continue to fund and extend the mission further into the Kuiper Belt.

Source :chinatopix

NASA spots Kuiper Belt targets for Pluto mission


Follow us on Google+ and Facebook

20120210_lg

Whole journey of New Horizons Spacecraft  (Click to enlarge the image)

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered three Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) the agency’s New Horizons spacecraft could potentially visit after it flies by Pluto in July 2015.

The KBOs Hubble found are each about 10 times larger than typical comets, but only about 1-2 percent of the size of Pluto.

The KBOs were detected through a dedicated Hubble observing programme by a New Horizons search team that was awarded telescope time for this purpose, the US space agency said in a statement.

“This has been a very challenging search and it’s great that in the end Hubble could accomplish a detection – one NASA mission helping another,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator of the New Horizons mission.

The Kuiper Belt is a vast rim of primordial debris encircling our solar system and belongs to a unique class of solar system objects that has never been visited by spacecraft and which contains clues to the origin of our solar system.
Unlike asteroids, KBOs have not been heated by the sun and are thought to represent a pristine, well preserved deep-freeze sample of what the outer solar system was like following its birth 4.6 billion years ago. The KBOs found in the Hubble data are thought to be the building blocks of dwarf planets such as Pluto, noted the statement.

Though the New Horizons team started to look for suitable KBOs in 2011 and found several KBOs, none was reachable within the fuel supply available aboard the New Horizons spacecraft.

“We started to get worried that we could not find anything suitable, even with Hubble, but in the end the space telescope came to the rescue,” said John Spencer, a member of New Horizons science team.

The New Horizons spacecraft mission is the first in NASA’s New Frontiers Programme.

Source : ZEE NEWS