NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Stays the Course to Pluto

Here we go again.

NASA’s New Horizons probe will cruise within 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) of Pluto’s surface on July 14, capturing the first-ever good looks of the frigid, faraway and mysterious world.

The color images captured by the spacecraft on June 25 and 27 show Pluto’s surface is pinkish – a hue not usually associated with its frigid temperatures.

Scientists and researchers involved in the New Horizons mission aren’t completely positive about what the space probe will find on Pluto.

The 23-second thruster burst was the third and final planned targeting maneuver of New Horizons’ approach phase to Pluto; it was also the smallest of the nine course corrections since New Horizons launched in January 2006. “Pluto’s dark patch is quite different though”, said Stern. See the photos illustrating that difference below.

This means that New Horizons may remain on its original flight trajectory, rather than switching to a Safe Haven by Other Trajectory patch.

The recently released images pictured above are a combination of black-and-white images taken by the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager and lower-resolution color pictures from the spacecraft’s Ralph instrument.

“The infrared spectrometer on Nasa’s spacecraft has detected frozen methane on Pluto’s surface”, the statement said.

Methane was first detected on Pluto back in the 1970s by New Horizons team member Dale Cruikshank, who now works out of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

Eris, a dwarf planet discovered in 2005 which is thought to have a larger mass than Pluto is the largest dwarf planet in the solar system and the 9’th largest object that directly orbits the Sunday. Now, astronomers have confirmed a layer of methane ice on the icy dwarf planet.

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. By the time New Horizons’ cameras were close enough to Pluto to start the search last month, the team had already estimated the chances of a catastrophic incident at far less than 1 percent. However the flyby is so fast, and such a precious opportunity, that the spacecraft will focus entirely on Pluto during the July 14 encounter, at the cost of leaving the scientists and engineers back home in suspense.


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