Topic Tuesday #156 2015/07/14 "Pictures of Pluto!"
New Horizons launched January 19th, 2006 at 14:00 hours atop a Lockheed Martin Atlas V from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Space Launch Complex 41, after being manufactured in Maryland. It is roughly the size and shape of a baby grand piano weighing half a ton. Its mission was to complete the initial human survey of the solar system’s planets. There are 7 scientific instruments on-board (See Below), a nuclear decay power generator, the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh who discovered Pluto in 1930, a CD ROM with 434,000 names, another CD ROM with pictures of the New Horizons Team, a chunk of Space Ship One, 2 state quarters, 2 little American flags, and a US postage stamp from 1991, that says "Pluto Not Yet Explored" (29 cents).
The instruments, because I know you are curious:
- Ralph: Visible and infrared imager/spectrometer; provides color, composition and thermal maps.
- Alice: Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; analyzes composition and structure of Pluto's atmosphere and looks for atmospheres around Charon and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).
- REX: (Radio Science EXperiment) Measures atmospheric composition and temperature; passive radiometer.
- LORRI: (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) telescopic camera; obtains encounter data at long distances, maps Pluto's farside and provides high resolution geologic data.
- SWAP: (Solar Wind Around Pluto) Solar wind and plasma spectrometer; measures atmospheric "escape rate" and observes Pluto's interaction with solar wind.
- PEPSSI: (Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) Energetic particle spectrometer; measures the composition and density of plasma (ions) escaping from Pluto's atmosphere.
- SDC: (Student Dust Counter) Built and operated by students; measures the space dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage across the solar system.
Today, New Horizons made it! The spacecraft did a fly by, 7,800 miles from Pluto, at 30,817 mph, to take the best pictures we have every had of the dwarf planet, before heading for the next phase of its mission, the exploration of the Kuiper Belt.
Pluto is 3,000,000,000 (3 billion) miles from Earth (at this time in it's elliptical 248 year orbit around the Sun.
It takes radio signals (traveling at the speed of light) a little over 4 and half hours to reach us, at a staggeringly slow 1 kilobit per second. At that data rate, the images take almost an hour to download on a 200 foot dish antenna.
Previous to this mission the best image we had was the second round of pictures from Hubble, seen here.
Yesterday, 7/13/2015, New Horizons gave us this image from its LORRI instrument.
More even higher resolution images and readings will be downloaded over the next days and weeks. I can't wait!!!
We have now visited all the planets of the Sol System. But there is much work still left to do. Stephen Hawking commented on this latest historic mission and his words say it all.
"The revelations of New Horizons may help us to understand better how our solar system was formed," Prof Hawking said. "We explore because we are human, and we want to know. I hope that Pluto will help us on that journey. I will be watching closely, and I hope you will, too."
In case you were curious, These are the years we did reconnaissance on our planetary neighbors.
- Mercury - 1974
- Venus - 1979
- Mars - 1962 Soviet, 1965 Mariner 4
- Jupiter - 1979
- Saturn - 1980
- Uranus - 1986
- Neptune - 1989
- Pluto/Charon 2015
Take a moment, Think about the task and really applaud the team of scientists and engineers that made this happen. Remember, Space is hard. #Penny4NASA