Tag Archives: Pluto

New Horizons is at Pluto

New Horizons is at Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is at Pluto.

After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface — roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.

“I’m delighted at this latest accomplishment by NASA, another first that demonstrates once again how the United States leads the world in space,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple missions orbiting and exploring the surface of Mars in advance of human visits still to come; the remarkable Kepler mission to identify Earth-like planets around stars other than our own; and the DSCOVR satellite that soon will be beaming back images of the whole Earth in near real-time from a vantage point a million miles away. As New Horizons completes its flyby of Pluto and continues deeper into the Kuiper Belt, NASA’s multifaceted journey of discovery continues.”

Members of the New Horizons science team react to seeing the spacecraft's last and sharpest image of Pluto
Members of the New Horizons science team react to seeing the spacecraft’s last and sharpest image of Pluto before closest approach later in the day, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

“The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match.”

Per the plan, the spacecraft currently is in data-gathering mode and not in contact with flight controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physical Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Scientists are waiting to find out whether New Horizons “phones home,” transmitting to Earth a series of status updates that indicate the spacecraft survived the flyby and is in good health. The “call” is expected shortly after 9 p.m. tonight.

The Pluto story began only a generation ago when young Clyde Tombaugh was tasked to look for Planet X, theorized to exist beyond the orbit of Neptune. He discovered a faint point of light that we now see as a complex and fascinating world.

“Pluto was discovered just 85 years ago by a farmer’s son from Kansas, inspired by a visionary from Boston, using a telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Today, science takes a great leap observing the Pluto system up close and flying into a new frontier that will help us better understand the origins of the solar system.”

New Horizons’ flyby of the dwarf planet and its five known moons is providing an up-close introduction to the solar system’s Kuiper Belt, an outer region populated by icy objects ranging in size from boulders to dwarf planets. Kuiper Belt objects, such as Pluto, preserve evidence about the early formation of the solar system.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, says the mission now is writing the textbook on Pluto.

“The New Horizons team is proud to have accomplished the first exploration of the Pluto system,” Stern said. “This mission has inspired people across the world with the excitement of exploration and what humankind can achieve.”

New Horizons’ almost 10-year, three-billion-mile journey to closest approach at Pluto took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched in January 2006. The spacecraft threaded the needle through a 36-by-57 mile (60 by 90 kilometers) window in space — the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball.

Because New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched – hurtling through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 mph, a collision with a particle as small as a grain of rice could incapacitate the spacecraft. Once it reestablishes contact Tuesday night, it will take 16 months for New Horizons to send its cache of data – 10 years’ worth — back to Earth.

New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple rovers exploring the surface of Mars, the Cassini spacecraft that has revolutionized our understanding of Saturn and the Hubble Space Telescope, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. All of this scientific research and discovery is helping to inform the agency’s plan to send American astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

“After nearly 15 years of planning, building, and flying the New Horizons spacecraft across the solar system, we’ve reached our goal,” said project manager Glen Fountain at APL “The bounty of what we’ve collected is about to unfold.”

APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the mission, science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Original and images by nasa.gov

Geologial activity on Puto

Geologial activity on Puto

In latest news from NASA, the New Horizons spacecraft is showing Pluto to be an intriguing new world with distinct surface features, including an immense dark band known as the “whale.”

nh-7-10-15_pluto_image_nasa-jhuapl-swri_0

As the newest black and white image from New Horizons’ Long Rang!e Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) appeared on the morning of July 10, members of the science team reacted with joy and delight, seeing Pluto as never before. There will no doubt be many similar moments to come. New images and data are being gathered each day as New Horizons speeds closer to a July 14 flyby of Pluto, following a journey of three billion miles.

mh-07-10-15_puto_image_annotated

“We’re close enough now that we’re just starting to see Pluto’s geology,” said New Horizons program scientist Curt Niebur, NASA Headquarters in Washington, who’s keenly interested in the gray area just above the whale’s “tail” feature. “It’s a unique transition region with a lot of dynamic processes interacting, which makes it of particular scientific interest.”

New Horizons’ latest image of Pluto was taken on July 9, 2015 from 3.3 million miles (5.4 million kilometers) away, with a resolution of 17 miles (27 kilometers) per pixel. At this range, Pluto is beginning to reveal the first signs of discrete geologic features. This image views the side of Pluto that always faces its largest moon, Charon, and includes the so-called “tail” of the dark whale-shaped feature along its equator. (The immense, bright feature shaped like a heart had rotated from view when this image was captured.)

“Among the structures tentatively identified in this new image are what appear to be polygonal features; a complex band of terrain stretching east-northeast across the planet, approximately 1,000 miles long; and a complex region where bright terrains meet the dark terrains of the whale,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern. “After nine and a half years in flight, Pluto is well worth the wait.”

Information and images courtesy of NASA.gov

Take New Horizons for a spin and print your own model!

Take New Horizons for a spin and print your own model!

new_horizon_wf-1041The New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006, is on approach for a dramatic flight past the icy dwarf planet of Pluto and its moons in July 2015. After 10 years and more than 3 billion miles, on a historic voyage that has already taken it over the storms and around the moons of Jupiter, New Horizons will shed light on new kinds of worlds on the outskirts of the solar system.

You can examine a 3-D model of the New Horizons spacecraft and download a .stl file for 3-D printing! Visit the NASA 3-D resources website, managed by the agency’s Ames Research Center, at:
http://nasa3d.arc.nasa.gov/detail/new-horizons

To find a collection of other 3-D models, textures, and images from NASA projects, visit:
http://nasa3d.arc.nasa.gov/

The site recently celebrated the download of its one millionth file. All of resources on the site are free to download and use under these usage guidelines:
http://www.nasa.gov/audience/formedia/features/MP_Photo_Guidelines.html

Learn more about New Horizons:
http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Image/File credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/David Napolillo

Sharon Lozano courtesy of nasa.gov

Pluto and Charon – A dynamic pair

Pluto and Charon – A dynamic pair

They’re a fascinating pair: Two icy worlds, spinning around their common center of gravity like a pair of figure skaters clasping hands. Scientists believe they were shaped by a cosmic collision billions of years ago, and yet, in many ways, they seem more like strangers than siblings.

A high-contrast array of bright and dark features covers Pluto’s surface, while on Charon, only a dark polar region interrupts a generally more uniform light gray terrain. The reddish materials that color Pluto are absent on Charon. Pluto has a significant atmosphere; Charon does not. On Pluto, exotic ices like frozen nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide have been found, while Charon’s surface is made of frozen water and ammonia compounds. The interior of Pluto is mostly rock, while Charon contains equal measures of rock and water ice.

“These two objects have been together for billions of years, in the same orbit, but they are totally different,” said Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.

Charon is about 750 miles (1200 kilometers) across, about half the diameter of Pluto—making it the solar system’s largest moon relative to its planet. Its smaller size and lower surface contrast have made it harder for New Horizons to capture its surface features from afar, but the latest, closer images of Charon’s surface show intriguing fine details.

Newly revealed are brighter areas on Charon that members of the mission’s Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team (GGI) suspect might be impact craters. If so, the scientists would put them to good use. “If we see impact craters on Charon, it will help us see what’s hidden beneath the surface,” said GGI leader Jeff Moore of NASA’s Ames Research Center. “Large craters can excavate material from several miles down and reveal the composition of the interior.”

In short, said GGI deputy team leader John Spencer of SwRI, “Charon is now emerging as its own world. Its personality is beginning to really reveal itself.”

NASA’s unmanned New Horizons spacecraft is closing in on the Pluto system after a more than nine-year, three-billion-mile journey. On July 14 it will zip past Pluto at 30,800 miles per hour (49,600 kilometers per hour), with a suite of seven science instruments busily gathering data. The mission will complete the initial reconnaissance of the solar system with the first-ever look at the icy dwarf planet.

Follow the New Horizons mission with #PlutoFlyby and on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/new.horizons1

By Tricia Talbert courtesy of NASA.gov
The two faces of Pluto

The two faces of Pluto

New color images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft show two very different faces of the mysterious dwarf planet, one with a series of intriguing spots along the equator that are evenly spaced. Each of the spots is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) in diameter.

Scientists have yet to see anything quite like the dark spots; their presence has piqued the interest of the New Horizons science team, due to the remarkable consistency in their spacing and size. While the origin of the spots is a mystery for now, the answer may be revealed as the spacecraft continues its approach to the mysterious dwarf planet. The patches may be due to impacts, geological features from an active period in the planet’s history, and may help answer the question as to why Pluto looks so different from its twin, Charon.

New Horizons team members combined black-and-white images of Pluto and Charon from the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) with lower-resolution color data from the Ralph instrument to produce these views. We see the planet and its largest moon in approximately true color, that is, the way they would appear if you were riding on the New Horizons spacecraft. About half of Pluto is imaged, which means features shown near the bottom of the dwarf planet are at approximately at the equatorial line.

Photos from NASA

Pluto shows two remarkably different sides in these color images of the planet and its largest moon Charon taken by New Horizons

Pluto and Charon come into view

Pluto and Charon come into view

Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, posed for a solemn portrait taken by NASA’s New Horizon’s probe, which is only two weeks away from its close encounter with the dwarf planet.

The newest snapshot of Pluto and Charon shows two icy gray circles hovering in a pitch-black void. In previous images, the two objects often looked like highly pixelated smudges of color — barely distinguishable as spheres. But with New Horizons only about 10 million miles (16 million kilometers) away from Pluto (and closing that distance by more than 30,000 miles, or 48,000 km, every hour), the view of these unexplored worlds is getting clearer every day.

“Looking at pictures on the website, you can see that Pluto and Charon are becoming more distinct in their surface features,” Alice Bowman, the missions operations manager for New Horizons, said today (June 30) in a mission update. “It’s getting pretty exciting. And every day is bringing new features into light.” [New Horizons’ Pluto Imagery Will Amaze Us (Video)]
New Horizons launched in January of 2006 and has spent the last nine-plus years making its way toward Pluto and the region of icy bodies beyond Neptune, known as the Kuiper Belt. Although four other human-made probes have ventured past the orbit of Neptune, none have done a close study of Pluto and its moons. Even the Hubble Space Telescope’s images of this small, dim dwarf planet are highly pixelated and blurry. New Horizons hopes to reveal a detailed look at the surface of Pluto, study its atmosphere and much more.

The new portrait of Pluto and Charon was taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument onboard New Horizons. These images are not only for scientific and aesthetic purposes, but also for navigational ones, according to a statement from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland (mission control for New Horizons).

With nearly 3 billion miles (4.8 billion km) between them, it takes about 4.5 hours to send a signal from the Maryland control center to New Horizons, Bowman said. As a result, team members have to tell the probe what to do (such as which instruments to point at Pluto) long before the probe actually does it. When the probe makes its close flyby of Pluto on July 14, the team will not be able to make any last-minute adjustments. Instead, New Horizons runs prewritten command sequences, most of which were written years before they were executed.

The command sequences must also indicate where Pluto is located relative to the probe, and thus where New Horizons should point its instruments. The New Horizons team has been constantly updating that navigational information as the probe moves closer and can obtain more precise information about Pluto’s location. Earlier this month, the team executed a course correction to ensure the spacecraft didn’t arrive at its close encounter point too early; that kind of miscalculation could cause the probe to take photos of empty space instead of the dwarf planet, researchers said.

Full Portrait of Pluto and Charon
Pin It The full portrait of Pluto and and its largest moon Charon, taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument on board New Horizons, and released on June 29.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research InstituteView full size image
In the next few days, Bowman said, the New Horizons team will be uploading the command sequence that will guide the probe through its historic flyby. There’s also a possibility that the team will execute another course correction.

“And of course [we’ll be] getting down lots of science data, optical navigation data,” Bowman said. “It’s going to be great.”

Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield