The fastest spacecraft ever built is on its final approach for a pioneering rendezvous with Pluto, but scientists will not know what it has witnessed until it is beyond the dwarf planet. New Horizons has traveled 3 billion miles over 9½ years to get to the historic point. NASA expects to receive a signal from the spacecraft later this evening to find out whether or not it survived the encounter.
The Google doodle shows the job that New Horizons set out to accomplish nine years ago.
Because the instruments on board New Horizons are busy collecting as much data as possible, the spacecraft can not sacrifice a single second to inform its team of its status. NASA reportedly is expected to submit a proposal to extend New Horizons’ mission to other Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).
The first images of Pluto in high definition will be returned in the early hours of the morning.
Seven months into the probe’s journey, Pluto was downgraded by astronomers from a planet to a dwarf planet.
The result confirms that Pluto is larger than all other known solar system objects beyond the orbit of Neptune, the United States space agency said in a statement.
Eyes on Pluto is within NASA’s Eyes visualization program, and will let users explore space through simulations built with real NASA spacecraft data.
“We’re flying into the unknown”, Stern said.
Pluto – the dwarf planet on the edge of our solar system is about to become just a little more familiar. That’s about 50 miles bigger than previous estimates in the low range.
With any luck, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just made its closest pass by Pluto.
This is the risk we take with all kinds of exploration.??It sounds like science fiction, but its not, ? Stern said as he opened a news conference at mission headquarters in Maryland.
New Horizons’ core science mission is to map the surfaces of Pluto and Charon.
The space probe is equipped with sensors, which will map out the surface of Pluto and its five moons in detail. But as the spacecraft approaches Pluto’s immediate neighborhood – and keeps driving – we’ll be able to take wonderful photos and readings, allowing scientists to determine the composition of Pluto, its atmosphere, and its largest moon, Charon.
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