NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured a few blurry images of Pluto while drawing ever nearer to it.
New Horizons’ mission is finally entering the phase everyone has been waiting for. After a 9 year travel and 3 billion flown miles the spacecraft is due to bass by Pluto on July 14. This is when it is programmed to take a series of detailed pictures of Pluto and send them back to Earth.
The mission’s lead investigator Alan Stern made the following statement:
“Three months from today, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will make the first exploration of the Pluto system, the Kuiper Belt and the farthest shore of exploration ever reached by humankind.”
New Horizon’s is the fastest spacecraft to have even been sent to space. This 1,000-pound probe crosses distances of approximately a million miles each day. It is fueled by plutonium as it is traveling too far away from the Sun to use solar arrays.
Although it was originally considered a full-size planet, Pluto is now included in the dwarf-planet category. It is the biggest celestial element in the Kuiper Belt, an area containing “leftovers” from formation of our Solar System, almost 5 billion years ago.
Pluto has five moons. The largest is Charon, with an area almost as big as Texas and a diameter almost half of Pluto’s. Scientists are waiting for the detailed images in order to determine whether Charon has an atmosphere. The team will also be looking for traces of water on the surface of this large plutonian moon.
The probe will be able to conduct a series of researches thanks to all the equipment it was packed with before its launch in 2001. Besides atmosphere and water, the team is also interested in geology mapping.
Stern was also proud to announce that:
“Nothing like this has been done in a quarter century and nothing like this is planned by any space agency ever again.”
The probe which is now traveling with a speed of 30,000 mph will need to reach a point located 7,750 miles from the surface. The target is about 60 by 90 miles and as Glen Fountain, the mission’s project manager at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory explained, the spacecraft will have to “hit it within 100 seconds”.
Everybody is now anxiously waiting for that moment.
Image Source: New York Post