NASA plans to release more images of Pluto and its moons Wednesday, after New Horizons has a chance to beam down some of its potentially even more striking views taken during the flyby.
Based on everything NASA knows, New Horizons was straight on course for the historic encounter, sweeping within 7,800 miles of Pluto at 31,000 mph. The large, bright region measures about 1,000 miles across, and “the heart”, according to NASA, “borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (pictured right) are complex”.
The odds of a devastating blow, at this late point, are said to be an extremely low one or two in 10,000. “New Horizons is flying into the unknown, then we will get a 16-month data waterfall”.
Although New Horizons began its flypast of Pluto at lunchtime on Tuesday, it will take another 16 months to send back all of the information it captured.
“Pluto and Charon are both mind-blowing”, Stern told CNN on Saturday.
Tombaugh and his sister, Annette Tombaugh Sitze, said they planned to be at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, on Tuesday to celebrate their father’s wish to visit another planet coming true. The energy there Monday was described as electric. The team behind this exploration will need lots of time to analyze and interpret the data that New Horizons will be sending.
“The most exciting thing we’re gonna find at Pluto is something we’re not expecting at all”, says Withers. “We found one that I think we can approach fairly closely in 2019”.
More details about Pluto’s unusual characteristics will no doubt add to a debate among scientists over how to categorize it because of its small size and other factors.
Binzel will help researchers understand the images from New Horizons.
As for pictures, the resolution is going to increase dramatically.
The mission will not be determined a success until images are “phoned home” by New Horizons later tonight.
New Horizons looks like a gold foil-covered grand piano.
It takes 4½ hours for signals to travel one-way between New Horizons and Earth.
New Horizons will turn its antenna back toward Earth around 4:20 pm Tuesday to send a message that it survived and a brief summary of how the day went. It orbits at the very edge of it, in a mysterious zone of icy objects known as the Kuiper Belt. It was demoted to the status of “dwarf planet” after the discovery of other Pluto-like, ice-and-rock worlds orbiting beyond Neptune in the Kuiper Belt.
In order to make its closest approach to Pluto, New Horizons was required to “thread the needle” in a mere 36-by-57 mile window of space.
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