Tags: probe | pluto | closeup

Probe's Pluto Closeup Just 3 Months Away After 9-Year Trip

Image: Probe's Pluto Closeup Just 3 Months Away After 9-Year Trip
Artist’s concept of NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it passes Pluto in July 2015. (nasa.gov)

By    |   Thursday, 16 Apr 2015 11:11 AM

The NASA probe New Horizons is just three months away from Pluto, giving Earth-bound scientists a buzz of excitement as the spacecraft marked another milestone in its nine-year trip to the solar system's farthest body.

New Horizons, the fastest spaceship NASA has ever created, will complete its three billion-mile journey in July when it will settle into orbit 7,750 miles from Pluto's surface and give researchers their first ever close-up look at the planet and its five moons, according to NASA in a statement.

Still 71 million miles away, the probe took a blurry picture of Pluto and its largest moon Charon on April 9, reported Forbes magazine. When New Horizons gets to its projected July 14 distance, researchers will be able to see the planet in detail and make out features as small as a few miles across.

"New Horizons is one of the great explorations of our time," said project scientist Hal Weaver at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. The laboratory built and operates the probe.

"There's so much we don't know, not just about Pluto, but other worlds like it. We're not rewriting textbooks with this historic mission – we'll be writing them from scratch," said Weaver.

NASA researchers said that the Pluto exploration will cap off 50 years of reconnaissance missions the agency has made to the planets in the solar system, beginning with Venus and Mars in the early 1960s, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn in the 1970s and Uranus and Neptune in the 1980s.

"Scientific literature is filled with papers on the characteristics of Pluto and its moons from ground based and Earth orbiting space observations, but we've never studied Pluto up close and personal," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

"In an unprecedented flyby this July, our knowledge of what the Pluto system is really like will expand exponentially and I have no doubt there will be exciting discoveries."

Space.com wrote that images and information sent back from New Horizons will take about 4.5 hours to reach Earth, despite traveling at the speed of light.

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The NASA probe New Horizons is just three months away from Pluto, giving Earth-bound scientists a buzz of excitement as the spacecraft marked another milestone in its nine-year trip to the solar system's farthest body.
probe, pluto, closeup
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2015-11-16
Thursday, 16 Apr 2015 11:11 AM
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