Similar to the recent thread by "eriktheawful" stating that the Dawn spacecraft nearing its target of the asteroid Ceres, another
probe is nearing its target destination -- The New Horizons spacecraft is getting near to Pluto after almost 9 years in space.
Granted, it will not be reaching its closest encounter with Pluto until July of 2015, but it is now near enough to the dwarf planet that mission
planners will be "waking up" the spacecraft out of hibernation this coming Saturday (December 6) in preparation for it to begin to do its scientific
mission, which will begin in January, ahead of July's close encounter fly-by of Pluto.
NASA will wake New Horizons on Saturday, the last of 18 different hibernation periods, but the space agency will conduct a series of tests before
the spacecraft begins exploring Pluto on Jan. 15, according to NASA's The PI's Perspective blog.
"New Horizons is healthy and cruising quietly through deep space -- nearly three billion miles from home -- but its rest is nearly over. It’s time
for New Horizons to wake up, get to work, and start making history." Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager at the Johns Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement.
By the way, to give you some idea of how long New Horizons has been on its way to Pluto: when New Horizons was launched, Pluto was still our ninth
! To clarify, the spacecraft has not been in hibernation the entire time since launch; it's been awoken several times before (and put back
to sleep). This will just be the last time it will be awoken until it reaches Pluto.
Here are some Hubble images of Pluto. don't be fooled by the perfectly round images you see. This is not a traditional image of Pluto, but rather a
combination of images (where the entire dwarf planet is just a few pixels across) that have been run through a computer process of artificially
creating a higher resolution image:
The Hubble images are a few pixels wide. But through a technique called dithering, multiple, slightly offset pictures can be combined through
computer-image processing to synthesize a higher-resolution view than could be seen in a single exposure. This series of pictures took four years and
20 computers operating continuously and simultaneously to accomplish.
Image Source and more information:
Hubble Maps of Pluto Show Surface Changes
Pluto may turn out to be a very interesting place. From the little we can see of it, it does seem to exhibit surface changes as its longs seasons
change. Pluto is headed for its winter season (which will last for about 100 Earth years), and it appears that its atmosphere is beginning to freeze
and fall to the surface. New Horizons will hopefully give us some information about that atmosphere, and the reason for the visible seasonal
New Horizons Reaches Pluto, NASA To Wake Up Spacecraft
NASA/New Horizons Mission Home Page
After it Passes by Pluto, Then What?
New Horizons is planned to fly past Pluto in July. It will not be reaching orbit around Pluto and staying, due to the speed of the spacecraft, the
lack of the fuel required to slow down, and the lack of the ability of Pluto's gravity to grab it. So what happens to the spacecraft then?
The plan is for New Horizons to go off into the kuiper belt and investigate other interesting targets there. Mission planners have been looking for
candidates in the kuiper belt that New Horizons could study, and they have found a few:
This is an artist’s impression of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO), located on the outer rim of our solar
system at a staggering distance of 4 billion miles from the Sun. A HST survey uncovered three KBOs that are potentially reachable by NASA’s New
Horizons spacecraft after it passes by Pluto in mid-2015
Peering out to the dim, outer reaches of our solar system, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has uncovered three Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) the
agency’s New Horizons spacecraft could potentially visit after it flies by Pluto in July 2015.
The KBOs were detected through a dedicated Hubble observing program by a New Horizons search team that was awarded telescope time for this
NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
Source and more information:
Telescope Finds Potential Kuiper Belt Targets for New Horizons Pluto Mission
edit on 12/3/2014 by Soylent Green Is People because: (no reason given)