Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Greetings from Pluto

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
After a nine year long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto today, about 12 400 km above the surface, making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth. New Horizon traveled about 4.8 billion km and during the journey Pluto actually lost its status as planet and was downgraded to a dwarf planet. 

According to plan, the spacecraft is currently is data-gathering mode and not in contact with flight controllers. The Scientists are waiting to find out whether New Horizons is going to transmit a series of status updates that indicate the spacecraft survived the flyby and is in good health. This transmission is expected shortly after 9 p.m. EST tonight. First images of this flyby are expected for tomorrow. Judging from the ones send to Earth over the last couple of days they will be spectacular.

New Horizons' flyby of the dwarf planet 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. Once the Pluto flyby mission is accomplished New Horizon will continue its journey into the Kuiper Belt and the team hopes to arrange for a couple of further flybys at larger objects.

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

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