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Author Topic: New Horizons spacecraft - Exploration of Pluto  (Read 370 times)
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« on: Jan 07, 2015, 01:25 PM »

Hello Pluto! NASA’s Visit to the Mystery World Begins

A remarkable spacecraft approaches the solar system's ninth planet (and yes, it's a planet)

On the spacecraft are some of the ashes of Pluto's discoverer Clyde Tombaugh who died in 1997. Pluto was discovered at 17° Cancer in 1930. In July 2015 Pluto will be at 14° Capricorn opposite the discovery degree.

It’s not exactly top secret, but it is too little known: this month, a small, robot spacecraft—built, launched and guided by a team of over 2,500 Americans—will begin the exploration of far-away Pluto and its five known moons. Lasting from January through July 2015, this epic journey is very much the Everest of planetary exploration.
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« Reply #1 on: Jan 18, 2015, 06:36 AM »

New Horizons begins first approach phase around Pluto

January 17, 2015
Chuck Bednar for – Your Universe Online

After a journey of more than eight years, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has finally entered the first of several planned approach phases around Pluto, and these will culminate with a historic first-ever flyby of the dwarf planet this summer.

According to a statement by Jim Green, director of the US space agency’s Planetary Science Division in Washington DC, “NASA’s first mission to distant Pluto will also be humankind’s first close up view of this cold, unexplored world in our solar system. The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly.”

New Horizons, which lifted off in January 2006, woke up from its final hibernation period last month after a voyage of more than three billion miles, NASA officials said. It will pass close to Pluto in the near future, travelling inside the orbits of its five known moons, and will complete its long-awaited flyby on July 14.

To prepare for that encounter, which will take place 4.67 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, the mission’s science, engineering, and spacecraft operations teams configured the probe for distant observations of Pluto’s system. The teams started with a long-distance photo shoot using its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument on January 25.

“We’ve completed the longest journey any spacecraft has flown from Earth to reach its primary target, and we are ready to begin exploring,” explained Alan Stern, principal investigator for the New Horizons mission at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

According to NASA, LORRI is scheduled to take hundreds of pictures of Pluto over the next several months, helping to fine-tune current estimates of the distance between New Horizons and Pluto. While the dwarf planet’s system will appear to be nothing more than little bright dots in the camera’s view until May, the data will help navigators program course-corrections.

The first such maneuver could take place as early as March, they said.

“We need to refine our knowledge of where Pluto will be when New Horizons flies past it,” explained Mark Holdridge, New Horizons encounter mission manager at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

“The flyby timing also has to be exact, because the computer commands that will orient the spacecraft and point the science instruments are based on precisely knowing the time we pass Pluto – which these images will help us determine,” he added. This will be the first time that images from New Horizons will be used to help pinpoint Pluto’s location.

The first approach phase will last until spring, and during its approach, the spacecraft will be also be involved in several other scientific research projects. According to NASA, its instruments will collect continuous data on the interplanetary environment where the planetary system orbits, including measurements of the high-energy particles streaming from the sun and dust-particle concentrations in the inner reaches of the Kuiper Belt.

More extensive studies of Pluto will begin in the spring, when cameras and spectrometers on board New Horizons will being providing higher-resolution images than those that can be taken on Earth.

Eventually, the probe will be able to obtain photos with quality high enough to map Pluto and its moons more accurately than previously possible. It will even explore the outer region of the solar system and the thousands of Pluto-like small, icy planetoids believed to be there.

Who knows, maybe it will find a wormhole to other universes

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« Reply #2 on: Jan 27, 2015, 10:52 AM »

Nasa spacecraft in range for Pluto's first close up images

LA Times
Last updated 09:43, January 26 2015

Pluto, get ready for your close-up.

After travelling nine years across more than 3 billion kilometres of space, a spacecraft the size of a grand piano is about to give humanity its first high-resolution view of the dwarf planet that's about two-thirds the size of our moon.

Nobody knows what the rendezvous will reveal. Pluto's icy surface may resemble an extreme version of Antarctica, with snow-capped mountains, steep crevasses and towering ice cliffs. The planet could be surrounded by rings of tiny ice particles, like its giant neighbour Neptune. There may even be evidence that an ancient ocean once sloshed beneath the frozen crust of its largest moon, Charon.

When it comes to Pluto, nothing is certain.

"Our knowledge of Pluto is quite meagre," said planetary scientist Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the Nasa mission known as New Horizons. "It is very much like our knowledge of Mars was before our first mission there 50 years ago."

New Horizons is poised to change all that. This week, the spacecraft's long-range cameras will begin snapping pictures of Pluto and its moons against a backdrop of stars. New Horizons has been taking detailed measurements of the dust and charged particles in the dwarf planet's environment since mid-January.

More data will be collected during the months leading up to the mission's big moment this summer: a close approach on July 14 that will take the spacecraft just over 12,000km from Pluto's surface.

From that distance, New Horizons will be able to determine what the dwarf planet is made of, create temperature maps of its multi-colored surface, and look for auroras in its thin atmosphere. Scientists and the public will see the first high-definition images later in the year.

Until now, the best pictures astronomers have managed to get consist of a few hazy pixels that were captured by the Hubble Space Telescope more than a decade ago. The resolution is so poor that if you looked at a comparable image of Earth, you wouldn't be able to distinguish the continents from the seas.

The instruments on New Horizons will take images so detailed that if they were pictures of Los Angeles, they would show individual runways at Los Angeles International Airport, said Stern, who is based at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

"What I'm most looking forward to is taking this point of light and transforming it into a planet," he said.

The existence of a planet beyond Neptune was first hypothesise in the early 20th century after scientists noticed what they thought were disturbances in the orbits of Neptune and Uranus. Those wobbles turned out to be measurement errors, but decades of searching for the elusive "Planet X" led astronomers to Pluto in 1930.

Despite its great distance and diminutive size, scientists have been able to glean a remarkable amount of information from the anemic data gathered so far. By watching Pluto's movements across the night sky, they deduced that it takes 248 Earth years to make one trip around the sun. Because Pluto's brightness oscillates in a regular pattern, they think it makes a complete rotation on its axis every 6.4 Earth days.

Astronomers also noted that Pluto ventures far above and below the paths of the major planets in our night sky, leading them to conclude that its orbital plane has a distinctive tilt.

Close observations have revealed that Pluto has at least five moons — the biggest being Charon, which is about the size of Texas. After watching how Pluto's gravity affects the movement of these moons, scientists have a sense of what the dwarf planet's mass and volume might be and how much of it is made of rock and ice.

By examining the sunlight that reflects off Pluto through a prism, astronomers have been able to detect frozen methane, nitrogen and carbon monoxide on its surface. They've also determined that water ice appears to be absent.

Astronomers can even get a rough approximation of the temperature on Pluto's surface by using large telescopes to look at the radiation emitted from its surface after it travels feebly across billions of miles of space.

"It is amazing what scientists can squeeze out of pathetic data," said Hal Weaver, a planetary scientist at Johns Hopkins University and the project scientist on New Horizons.

But in the last few decades, scientists have hit a wall.

"At some point you get the maximum amount of information out of the data that you can, and the only way to advance your understanding is to send a spacecraft out," said Richard Binzel, a professor at MIT and co-investigator on New Horizons.

Nasa has considered going to Pluto many times over the last 25 years, but three previous missions — Pluto Fast Flyby, Pluto Express and Pluto Kuiper Express — were shelved or cancelled. New Horizons got the green light in 2001 with a relatively low budget of US$700 million (more than NZ$900m).

"It is going to be a huge advance over anything we've done so far with telescopes on the ground," said UCLA astronomer Dave Jewitt.

The mission got a boost from the 1992 discovery by Jewitt and his former graduate student Jane Luu that Pluto was not alone in the distant band of the solar system now known as the Kuiper Belt. More than 1500 Kuiper Belt objects have been found so far - a cosmic zoo of bodies that vary in size, colour and composition.

Occasionally, these bodies get knocked out of their distant orbits and come zooming to the inner solar system, ejecting gas and dust as they encounter the sun's warmth for the first time. These are known as the short-period comets.

A handful of spacecraft have flown to these comets, including the European Space Agency's Rosetta orbiter. But New Horizons' visit to Pluto will provide the first glimpse of a Kuiper Belt object in its native habitat.

Pluto is the largest known member of the Kuiper Belt, but not by much. The dwarf planet Eris is close enough in size that astronomers briefly thought it might be larger, though that is no longer the case.

Pluto was still considered a full-fledged planet when New Horizons blasted off from Earth in 2006, but it was demoted to dwarf planet a few months later. The International Astronomical Union, which makes such determinations, said Pluto didn't make the cut because it wasn't hefty enough to prevent similar-sized objects from forming in its section of the solar system.

This indignity has not stopped the New Horizons scientists from describing their mission as one of planetary exploration.

"We will find out if it has enough mass that we think it deserves to be in the planet category," said Weaver, who helped find four of Pluto's five confirmed moons. "For now, I think calling it a dwarf planet still makes it a planet. Is a Chihuahua any less of a dog because it is small?"

Even if Pluto turns out to be smaller than astronomers anticipate, Binzel said he won't be disappointed.

"There is nothing about the quest for knowledge about Pluto that has anything to do with its label," he said.

New Horizons will spend most of 2015 collecting data from Pluto, its moons and its local area. Scientists anticipate that it will take until the fall of 2016 for the spacecraft to deliver its trove of data back to Earth.

By then, New Horizons may be on its way to visit other objects in the Kuiper Belt, if Nasa opts to extend the mission. Scientists have already identified two candidates, each about the size of Orange County, that they would like to study once the primary mission is over.

"They are another billion miles further out, and it would take us until 2019 to get there," Stern said. But astronomers don't want to miss this chance to visit objects that have been in a deep freeze since the dawn of the solar system.

"The spacecraft is healthy and full of fuel," he said. "The instruments are approved to go further."
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« Reply #3 on: Jan 28, 2015, 05:00 AM »

Hi Rad and Linda,

I wonder if this will correlate with the mainstream, the consensus, gaining new insights into the nature of the Soul and begin to accept reincarnation as fact.

Time will tell.

All the best

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« Reply #4 on: Apr 01, 2015, 06:46 PM »

What would it be like to live on Pluto?

See the video, and answer the 10 quizz questions

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« Reply #5 on: Apr 03, 2015, 11:56 AM »

I sure hope the navigation software is encoded with Pluto Vol. 1  Smiley
« Last Edit: Apr 15, 2015, 09:32 AM by Daniel » Logged
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« Reply #6 on: Apr 15, 2015, 09:17 AM »

Blurry Pluto will become clear with NASA flyby

Agence France-Presse
15 Apr 2015 at 05:49 ET 

The best picture we have of Pluto is a blurry, pixelated blob, but that is about to change when a NASA spacecraft makes the first-ever flyby of the dwarf planet.

The US space agency’s unmanned New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to pass by Pluto on July 14, and will send back unprecedented high-resolution images, allowing people to glimpse the surface of the distant celestial body in rich detail.

Pluto was long considered the ninth planet in the solar system, and the furthest from the sun. It was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006.

Rocky on the inside and icy on the outside, Pluto has five moons and resides in the Kuiper Belt, a zone of the solar system that is a relic of the era of planetary formation more than 4.5 billion years ago, and contains comets and the building blocks of small planets.

“It sounds like science fiction but it is not,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator on the New Horizons mission.

“Three months from today, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will make the first exploration of the Pluto system, the Kuiper Belt and the farthest shore of exploration ever reached by humankind,” Stern told reporters Tuesday.

- Size of a piano -

New Horizons, about the size of a baby grand piano, is the fastest moving spacecraft ever launched, and is traveling about a million miles (1.6 million kilometers) a day on its way to this unexplored frontier.

The 1,000-pound (465-kilogram) vehicle launched in 2006, on a journey of some three billion miles to get to Pluto.

It is powered by plutonium since the sunlight is so weak at that distance that solar arrays — often used in other kinds of spacecraft — would not work.

Stern described the spacecraft as being “in perfect health” and carrying a “scientific arsenal” of the most powerful suite of seven scientific instruments ever brought to bear on the first reconnaissance of a new celestial body.

“Nothing like this has been done in a quarter century and nothing like this is planned by any space agency ever again,” Stern said.

New Horizons aims to map the geology of Pluto and its moons. The largest, Charon, is the size of Texas.

Scientists hope to learn more about the atmosphere of Pluto, which is mainly nitrogen like Earth’s, and find out if Pluto and Charon have interior oceans.

- Fast flyby -

In mid-July, the spacecraft will pass by Pluto at a speed of 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) per hour.

The New Horizons spacecraft management team on Earth is aiming for a target point 7,750 miles from Pluto’s surface, but it will not be easy to get into the right position.

“We are flying three billion miles. We have to hit a target that is 60 by 90 miles, and we have to hit it within 100 seconds after nine and a half years. That’s the kind of precision we have to navigate to,” said Glen Fountain, New Horizons project manager at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Starting in May, high resolution images of Pluto and Charon should start arriving on Earth, said Cathy Olkin, New Horizons deputy project scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The spacecraft will continue sending bits of data and photos from the flyby until October 2016.

“We are going to have surprises and discoveries over the next year and a half,” Olkin told reporters.

Already, some images have begun to arrive, and atmospheric studies of the surface ices will begin in May and June, followed by plasma data, geologic and color data in August and more science in September.

But on the day of the closest approach, July 14, there will be no images, she said.

“We need to keep our sights on Pluto, we need to train our instruments on Pluto,” Olkin said.

“We are all going to have to be patient while New Horizons is exploring Pluto.”

After the flyby of Pluto, New Horizons will carry on into the Kuiper Belt to study more about the history of planetary formation.

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« Reply #7 on: Apr 15, 2015, 01:58 PM »

This is SO exciting!!!  Cheesy

Can't wait to see the high resolution images of Pluto!
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« Reply #8 on: Apr 17, 2015, 10:30 PM »

The New Horizons probe, which is bearing down on Pluto, has captured its first colour image of the distant dwarf planet:
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