영어과학 English science study

Number Won 2015. 7. 5. 00:55

July 2, 2015

15-143

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Stays the Course to Pluto

These images show the difference between two sets of 48 combined 10-second exposures with New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera, taken at 8:40 UTC and 10:25 UTC on June 26, 2015, from a range of 21.5 million kilometers (approximately 13 million miles) to Pluto. The known small moons, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx, are visible as adjacent bright and dark pairs of dots, due to their motion in the 105 minutes between the two image sets.

Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is getting a final “all clear” as it speeds closer to its historic July 14 flyby of Pluto and the dwarf planet’s five moons.

After seven weeks of detailed searches for dust clouds, rings, and other potential hazards, the New Horizons team has decided the spacecraft will remain on its original path through the Pluto system instead of making a late course correction to detour around any hazards. Because New Horizons is traveling at 30,800 mph (49,600 kph), a particle as small as a grain of rice could be lethal.

“We’re breathing a collective sigh of relief knowing that the way appears to be clear,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA. “The science payoff will be richer as we gather data from the optimal flight path, as opposed to having to conduct observations from one of the back-up trajectories.”

Mission scientists have been using the spacecraft’s most powerful telescopic camera, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), to look for potential hazards, such as small moons, rings, or dust, since mid-May. The decision on whether to keep the spacecraft on its original course or adopt a Safe Haven by Other Trajectory, or "SHBOT" path, had to be made this week since the last opportunity to maneuver New Horizons onto an alternate trajectory is July 4.

“Not finding new moons or rings present is a bit of a scientific surprise to most of us,” said principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “But as a result, no engine burn is needed to steer clear of potential hazards. We presented these data to NASA for review and received approval to proceed on course and plan. We are ‘go’ for the best of our planned Pluto encounter trajectories.”

New Horizons formed a hazard analysis team in 2011, after the discovery of Pluto’s fourth moon, Kerberos, raised concerns the cratering of these moons by small debris from the outer area of the solar system known as the Kuiper Belt, could spread additional hazardous debris into New Horizons’ path. Mission engineers re-tested spare spacecraft blanketing and parts back on Earth to determine how well they would stand up to particle impacts, and scientists modeled the likely formation and locations of rings and debris in the Pluto system. By the time New Horizons’ cameras were close enough to Pluto to start the search last month, the team had already estimated the chances of a catastrophic incident at far less than one percent.

The images used in the latest searches that cleared the mission to stay on its current course were taken June 22, 23 and 26. Pluto and all five of its known moons are visible in the images, but scientists saw no rings, new moons, or hazards of any kind. The hazards team determined that satellites as faint as about 15 times dimmer than Pluto’s faintest known moon, Styx, would have been seen if they existed beyond the orbit of Pluto’s largest and closest moon, Charon.

If any rings do exist, the hazard team determined they must be extremely faint, reflecting less than one 5-millionth of the incoming sunlight.

“The suspense – at least most of it – is behind us,” says John Spencer, of SwRI, who leads the New Horizons hazard analysis team. “As a scientist I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t spot additional moons to study, but as a New Horizons team member I am much more relieved that we didn’t find something that could harm the spacecraft. New Horizons already has six amazing objects to analyze in this incredible system.”

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

or

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates will be available on the mission Facebook page.

-end-

Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

Mike Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
240-228-7536
michael.buckley@jhuapl.edu

Maria Stothoff
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
210-522-3305
maria.stothoff@swri.org

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  Moons, New Horizons, Pluto,

New Horizons

July 3, 2015

NASA Met Unprecedented Challenges Sending Spacecraft to Pluto

On June 2, 2015, Kennedy Space Center employees heard a panel discussion with key individuals who supported the New Horizons mission to Pluto. From the left are, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, Ph.D., of the Southwest Research Institute, Si Song, Lockheed Martin's third stage integrator for the Atlas V, now the Spacecraft Integration lead for United Launch Alliance; and Chuck Tatro, the New Horizons launch site mission manager for NASA's Launch Services Program, now chief of the Launch Site Integration Branch of LSP, Moderating the discussion, on the far right, is George Diller of NASA Communications.

Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

In NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, the New Horizons probe is moved toward a work stand for a checkout on Sept. 25, 2005. The 1,054-pound, piano-sized spacecraft is topped by a high-gain dish antenna to transmit data across three billion miles back to Earth.

Credits: NASA

Enclosed in its payload fairing on Dec. 17, 2005, the New Horizons spacecraft is mounted atop its Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket in the Vertical Integration Facility at Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Credits: NASA

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft roars off Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 41 atop an Atlas V rocket on Jan. 19, 2006. Since then, the compact probe received a boost from a third stage solid propellant kick motor for its journey to Pluto. New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched, passing through the moon's orbit in just nine hours. The flight path allowed New Horizons to fly past Jupiter in early 2007 and use the planet’s gravity as a slingshot toward Pluto.

Credits: NASA

By Bob Granath
NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA's New Horizons mission presented challenges like no other, but its goal also was unprecedented. The spacecraft will soon begin a study of the farthest reaches of the solar system. It was an historic journey of over 3.6 billion miles that began at the agency's Florida spaceport.

Plans call for New Horizons to send the first-ever, close-up images and scientific observations of distant Pluto, its system of large and small moons, and the Kuiper Belt. A region of the solar system beyond the planets, the Kuiper Belt consists mainly of small planetary bodies.

To reach its primary target, the New Horizons spacecraft has traveled farther away and a longer time -- more than nine years -- than any previous space mission. The flight through the Pluto system is planned to begin July 14, 2015. It will complete the initial reconnaissance of the classical solar system, expanding the frontiers of knowledge, capability and opportunity in space.

Alan Stern, Ph.D., New Horizons principal investigator, recently spoke to several hundred Kennedy Space Center employees, many of whom helped process and launch the first Pluto probe.

"For all of you who worked on this, thank you very much; it worked flawlessly," said Stern, who is associate vice president for Research and Development at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. "For the whole scientific community, for our science team, for our mission team, and for all the people who worked this, a big round of applause to all of you."

The New Frontiers project was approved in June 2001 with the mission profile proposed and the spacecraft built by a team led by Stern and including researchers from SwRI and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

Early in the process, the New Frontiers team contacted representatives of NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP) at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Soon after the mission was approved, we began discussions about what would be the best launch vehicle to provide the needed energy to send the spacecraft at unprecedented speeds and distances," said Mike Stelzer, who was LSP's mission manager for New Horizons. "We selected the Atlas V rocket to give us the needed boost for a 1,054-pound, piano-sized spacecraft at the speed necessary for a three-billion-mile trip."

The chosen version of the Lockheed Martin Atlas V used five strap-on solid rocket boosters, more than any previous launch. Added to that was a powerful Centaur upper stage.

"And all of that was still not enough," said Stelzer, who now works in the Vehicle Integration and Launch Support Branch of Kennedy's Ground Systems Development and Operations Program. "To get that needed additional push to achieve the required 'escape velocity,' we added the upper stage of a Boeing Delta II rocket."

According to Chuck Tatro, who was the New Horizons launch site mission manager for LSP, additional effort was needed to coordinate the many organizations involved.

"Ordinarily, mission meetings involve 30 to 40 people," he said. "For this, progress reviews frequently included 50 to 60 and sometimes as many as 100."

In addition to NASA, support came from SwRI, APL, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, the Idaho National Laboratory, and representatives from the New Horizons Program Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

"It was a challenge to coordinate that may roles in the project," said Tatro who currently is chief of the Launch Site Integration Branch of LSP, "but since we were sending a probe to an unexplored planet, it was an exciting time."

New Horizons was transported by a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane arriving at Kennedy's Shuttle Landing Facility on Sept. 24, 2005.

"It was about 9 or 10 p.m. that night and everyone was pretty enthusiastic," Tatro said. "Sending a probe to Pluto had been a dream for a long time, and now the spacecraft was at the last stepping-off point before that long journey began."

After New Horizons was unloaded, it was transported to the center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) for preflight preparations.

Stelzer explained a careful focus of preflight processing was the Pluto probe's power source.

"Traveling as far away from the sun as New Horizons did, means solar panels are useless," he said. "Batteries and fuel cells also wouldn't work due to the length of the mission. That meant using a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or RTG."

An RTG is an electrical generator that uses an array of thermocouples to produce electricity though the heat released by the decay of a suitable radioactive material, in this case plutonium. The unit for New Horizons was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy at the Materials and Fuels Complex, a part of the Idaho National Laboratory.

"We made sure the design and configuration was well vetted to ensure the RTG was safe," Stelzer said.

While the spacecraft was being processed in the PHSF, the launch vehicle was being prepared at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The Atlas V booster and Centaur second stage arrived at the Cape Skid Strip in late August 2005. Both were processed in the Atlas Space Operations Center. on Sept. 29, 2005, the first stage of an Atlas V rocket was raised to vertical on Launch Complex 41 at the Cape and the Centaur added shortly thereafter. Preparations for launch continued in the 30-story Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) with attachment of the five solid rocket motors.

This is where the New Horizons team faced their next challenge.

"Hurricane Wilma blew through while we were stacking the rocket," Stelzer said. "Part of a door tore off in the high winds and hit one of the solids."

Wilma crossed Florida on Oct. 24, 2005. The highest wind gust recorded at the spaceport was 94 mph, while the maximum sustained wind was 76 mph. A portion of a 41-by-275-foot reinforced fabric "megadoor" on the VIF blew off, causing some debris to impact a solid rocket booster. Lockheed Martin technicians replaced the damaged solid-fuel booster.

"They did a great job recovering from the storm and that kept us on schedule," Tatro said. "From the beginning of the project, we were on a tight timeline to take advantage of a brief lineup of Earth, Jupiter and Pluto."

The launch window extended from Jan. 11 to Feb 14, 2006. However, launching within the first 23 days would allow New Horizons to swing past Jupiter for a gravity assist that would speed the travel to Pluto. Although there were backup launch opportunities in February 2006 and February 2007, any launch outside the primary period would have forced the spacecraft to fly a slower trajectory directly to Pluto, delaying its encounter by five to six years.

A gravity assist maneuver puts a spacecraft in a trajectory close enough to a planet to use its gravity. This alters the probe's path in a "slingshot maneuver" to change speed saving propellant and travel time.

On Dec. 17, 2005, Tatro took a last look at New Horizons just before it was encapsulated in its payload fairing.

"It looked like a big grand piano, with the RTG stuck out to one side, topped off by a big seven-foot, high-gain dish antenna," he said. "It is an elegant spacecraft."

After the New Horizons spacecraft with its Delta II Star 48 third stage kick motor was transported from the PHSF to Launch Complex 41, it was mounted atop the booster rocket.

Lockheed Martin's Si Song was the third stage integrator for the Atlas V. He monitored the final countdown from the launch control center of the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center at Cape Canaveral just four miles from pad 41. He still remembers the emotions of the moment.

"I had two thoughts going through my mind," said Song, now the Spacecraft Integration lead for United Launch Alliance. one was, this is going to be the fastest man-made object in the solar system once it gets off its rocket. The second thing was that this is the last time that any human is going to see the spacecraft before it started on its three-billion-plus-mile journey to the edge of our solar system. It was really exciting and it almost brought tears to my eyes."

Launched from Cape Canaveral on Jan. 19, 2006, New Horizons received a gravity assist from Jupiter during its closest approach in 2007. That increased the probe's speed by 9,000 mph, successfully shortening its voyage to Pluto. New Horizons' closest approach will be on July 14, 2015, later passing Pluto's largest moon, Charon.

"This is one of the more memorable things that has happened in our time," Stern said, "the exploration of our solar system."

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Bob Granath

Tags:  Kennedy Space Center, Kuiper Belt, New Horizons, Planets, Pluto, Solar System,

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New Horizons

July 2, 2015

New Horizons Color Images Reveal Two Distinct Faces of Pluto, Series of Spots that Fascinate

New color images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft show two very different faces of the mysterious dwarf planet, one with a series of intriguing spots along the equator that are evenly spaced. Each of the spots is about 300 miles (480 kilometers) in diameter, with a surface area that’s roughly the size of the state of Missouri.

Scientists have yet to see anything quite like the dark spots; their presence has piqued the interest of the New Horizons science team, due to the remarkable consistency in their spacing and size. While the origin of the spots is a mystery for now, the answer may be revealed as the spacecraft continues its approach to the mysterious dwarf planet. “It’s a real puzzle—we don’t know what the spots are, and we can’t wait to find out,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder. “Also puzzling is the longstanding and dramatic difference in the colors and appearance of Pluto compared to its darker and grayer moon Charon.”

New Horizons team members combined black-and-white images of Pluto and Charon from the spacecraft’s Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) with lower-resolution color data from the Ralph instrument to produce these views. We see the planet and its largest moon in approximately true color, that is, the way they would appear if you were riding on the New Horizons spacecraft. About half of Pluto is imaged, which means features shown near the bottom of the dwarf planet are at approximately at the equatorial line.

New color images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft show two very different faces of the mysterious dwarf planet, one with a series of intriguing spots along the equator that are evenly spaced.

More New Horizons News for Wednesday, July 1:

Instruments Prepare to Search for Clouds in Pluto’s Atmosphere

If Pluto has clouds, New Horizons can detect them. Both the high-resolution LORRI imager and the Ralph color imager will be used to look for clouds across the face of Pluto during its approach and departure from the planet. “We’re looking for clouds in our images using a number of techniques,” said science team postdoc Kelsi Singer of the Southwest Research Institute, “If we find clouds, their presence will allow us to track the speeds and directions of Pluto’s winds.”

An artist’s conception of clouds in Pluto’s atmosphere.

Credits: JHUAPL

New Horizons Team Says “Bravo!” To Earth-Based Pluto Observers

For more than two decades, planetary scientists have raced to get a spacecraft to Pluto against predictions that its atmosphere would disappear—literally freezing onto the surface—before it could be explored. This week, planetary scientists using ground-based telescopes and NASA’s SOFIA airborne observatory confirmed that “Pluto’s atmosphere is alive and well, and has not frozen out on the surface,” according to New Horizons deputy project scientist Leslie Young, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder. Added Young, “We’re delighted!”

“The SOFIA observations will also be essential for linking ground-based studies to the results from the New Horizons Pluto encounter for decades to come”, said Cathy Olkin, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, co-investigator on NASA’s New Horizons mission.

Credits: NASA-Jim Ross

PEPSSI Instrument Tastes Pluto’s Atmosphere

The Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI) instrument aboard New Horizons is sending back data daily, sampling the space environment near Pluto. PEPSSI is designed to detect ions (atoms that have lost or gained one or more electrons) that have escaped from Pluto’s atmosphere. As they depart, these atoms become caught up in the solar wind, the stream of subatomic particles that emanates from the Sun. PEPSSI’s job is to tell scientists about the composition of Pluto’s escaping atmosphere and how quickly the atmosphere is escaping.

The location of New Horizons’ Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation (PEPSSI) instrument is shown.

New Horizons is now less than 9.5 million miles (15 million kilometers) from the Pluto system. The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

To view images from New Horizons and learn more about the mission visit: http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and http://pluto.jhuapl.edu

Follow the New Horizons mission on social media, and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. The mission’s official NASA Twitter account is @NASANewHorizons. Live updates are available on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/new.horizons1

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Lillian Gipson

Tags:  New Horizons, Pluto, Solar System,

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New Horizons

July 2, 2015

Exploring the Unexplored: New Horizons' Mission to Pluto

Alan Stern, Ph.D., principal investigator for the New Horizons mission, describes expectations for the probe's fly-by of Pluto. He currently is associate vice president for Research and Development at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett

This composite image of Jupiter and its moon, Io, was taken during the New Horizons spacecraft's gravity assist flyby on Feb. 28 and March 1, 2007.

Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Goddard Space Flight Center

This artist's concept depicts the New Horizons spacecraft during its planned encounter with Pluto and its moon, Charon. The craft's cameras, science experiments, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers and space plasma experiments will characterize the geology, surface compositions, temperatures and atmosphere of both Pluto and Charon.

Credits: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

This illustration notes that New Horizons was launched in January 2006, passed Jupiter in February 2007 and will make its closest approach to Pluto with its eccentric orbit (noted in yellow) during July 2015. Over the next five years, the spacecraft will enter the zone of KBOs, or Kuiper Belt Objects. Often called the “third zone” of the solar system, the Kuiper Belt swirls beyond both the inner zone of rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) and the middle zone of the gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune). The Kuiper Belt is the largest structure in the solar system, holding an estimated 100,000-plus miniature worlds, many with diameters no larger than 62 miles.

Credits: NASA

By Bob Granath
NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft soon will pass through the outer edges of the solar system. After a nine year and more than 3.6 billion mile trip, plans call for the probe to provide the first close up observations of Pluto and the most distant objects in the solar system.

"Of course we've seen it before, but we've never seen it like we're going to see it on July 14," said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, Ph.D., during a recent visit to the Kennedy Space Center.

Lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Jan. 19, 2006, New Horizons has traveled a longer time and farther away than any previous space mission to reach its primary destination, Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

On June 2, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, Ph.D., spoke to Kennedy Space Center employees, providing a preview of what to expect when the spacecraft makes its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015.

"It's an epic journey across the solar system," said Stern, who is associate vice president for Research and Development at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.

The New Frontiers spacecraft was built by a team led by Stern and included researchers from SwRI and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. APL also operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission.

"Nothing like this has happened since the Voyager program launched in 1977," said Stern.

During the mid-1960s, the United States and Soviet Union began sending probes to the planets closest to Earth – Venus and Mars. However, it was not until the 1970s that spacecraft were being launched toward Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn. The most significant step was Voyager 2, also referred to as the "Grand Tour." Launched from Cape Canaveral in 1977, it passed Jupiter in 1979, Saturn in 1981, Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989.

"I'm particularly proud of the tradition that began in 1962 with Mariner to Venus," said Stern, a former associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "The United States was first to every planet in the solar system. Centuries from now people will read about how, in one short period of time, a little over 50 years, we started from scratch eventually exploring across the solar system. But, we have a bit of unfinished business. New Horizons is going to complete that."

New Horizons launched from Cape Canaveral on Jan. 19, 2006 directly into an Earth-and-solar-escape trajectory. After the spacecraft separated from its third stage solid-fuel kick motor 44 minutes, 53 seconds after launch, the Pluto probe was on its way at 36,373 mph. With that velocity, it needed only nine hours to pass through the moon's orbit.

The planet Jupiter provided New Horizons with a gravity assist when it passed within 1.4 million miles on Feb. 28, 2007. A gravity assist maneuver puts a spacecraft in a trajectory close enough to a planet to use its gravity. This alters the probe's path in a "slingshot maneuver" to change speed saving propellant and travel time.

The Jupiter flyby increased New Horizons speed, accelerating the probe to 51,000 mph and shortening its voyage to Pluto by five to six years.

During the Jupiter encounter, New Horizons trained its science instruments on the large planet and its moons. After that, Chuck Tatro, who was the New Horizons launch site mission manager for LSP, explains the spacecraft was placed in "electronic hibernation" for much of the trip to Pluto. New Horizons pioneered routine cruise-flight hibernation. Not only has it reduced wear and tear on the spacecraft’s electronics, it lowered operations costs and freed up NASA Deep Space Network tracking and communication resources for other missions.

"Throughout the almost nine-year trip, flight controllers would 'wake up' New Horizons once every year to confirm the health of the spacecraft and perform any needed course corrections," he said. "It was brought out of its final hibernation period on Dec. 6, 2014 to prepare for the Pluto encounter this summer."

When New Horizons' closest approach to Pluto begins, the probe will perform a flyby during which it will attempt to take detailed measurements and images of the small planet and its moons.

"It will whiz by Pluto," said Tatro, who currently is chief of the Launch Site Integration Branch of LSP. "The fly-by will last only eight to 10 hours. We'll be receiving the bulk of the data during a period of about 24 hours."

Due to the 3.625-billion-mile distance, it will take about four-and-a-half hours for the signals to reach Earth with the long-awaited information.

"The closest approach period really starts around the first of the month, (July 2015) and goes for several weeks," Stern said. "About 900 scientific observations will be taking place."

New Horizons is intended to pass within 6,200 miles of Pluto, at about 7:50 a.m. EDT on July 14. The spacecraft will have a relative velocity of 30,800 mph at its approach and will come as close as 17,000 miles to Pluto's largest moon, Charon.

"This is true exploration," Stern said. "We're going to write the book on Pluto."

Planetary scientists believe Pluto is primarily made of rock and ice and is relatively small, about one-sixth the mass of the moon and one-third its volume.

"Pluto is about the size of the United States," Stern said. "Charon is about the size of Texas."

Charon has a diameter just over half that of Pluto with the two sometimes described as a binary system. This is because the barycenter of their orbits do not lie within either body. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has yet to formalize a definition for binary dwarf planets and Charon is still officially classified as a moon of Pluto along with Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx.

When the New Horizons spacecraft was launched, Pluto was still classified as a planet, later to be reclassified as a dwarf planet by the IAU. Stern disagrees with that definition and still describes Pluto as a planet.

"We're just learning that a lot of planets are small planets and we didn't know that before," he said. "Fact is, in planetary science, objects such as Pluto and the other dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt are considered planets and called planets in everyday discourse in scientific meetings."

Pluto's orbital period is 248 Earth years and its orbital characteristics are substantially different from those of the planets. From Mercury to Neptune, the other bodies circle the sun following nearly circular, almost flat, orbits. In contrast, Pluto has an eccentric and highly inclined orbit that takes it from 2.8 to 4.6 billion miles from the sun. Hence, Pluto periodically comes closer to the sun than Neptune, but their orbital resonance prevents the bodies from colliding.

Tatro noted that for the past nine years, Pluto's 3.625-billion-mile distance from the sun gives a rare opportunity to determine the nature of any atmosphere.

"Due to this 'relative closeness' to the Sun, scientists feel this provides the best hope of detecting any type of atmosphere around Pluto," he said. "This is because of the sun's weak heating at this 'closer' distance."

After its flyby of Pluto, New Horizons may also open the door to an entirely new zone of mysterious small planets and planetary building blocks in the Kuiper Belt, a large area with numerous objects beyond Neptune's orbit.

"Gerard Kuiper, who was a leading 20th century planetary scientist, believed that the reason Pluto looked like a misfit was that our technology was not good enough to find things orbiting with it," Stern said.

The Kuiper Belt is a region of the solar system beyond the planets, extending beyond the orbit of Neptune. It is similar to the asteroid belt, but it is much larger -- 20 times as wide and 20 to 200 times as massive. Like the asteroid belt, it consists mainly of small bodies, or remnants from the solar system's formation.

By expanding the frontiers of knowledge, capability and opportunity in space, NASA hopes to better understand the farthest reaches of the solar system, answering questions about Earth and life beyond.

"The universe has a lot more variety than we thought about and that's wonderful," Stern said. "The most exciting discoveries will likely be the ones we don't anticipate."

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Bob Granath

Tags:  Kennedy Space Center, Kuiper Belt, New Horizons, Planets, Pluto, Solar System,

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New Horizons

July 1, 2015

New Horizons Update: Methane Detected; New Images of Pluto and Charon; Sunrise/Sunset Observations

The location of the New Horizons Ralph instrument, which detected methane on Pluto, is shown. The inset is a false color image of Pluto and Charon in infrared light; pink indicates methane on Pluto’s surface.

Credits: Photo credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Yes, there is methane on Pluto, and, no, it doesn’t come from cows. The infrared spectrometer on NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has detected frozen methane on Pluto’s surface; Earth-based astronomers first observed the chemical compound on Pluto in 1976.

“We already knew there was methane on Pluto, but these are our first detections,” said Will Grundy, the New Horizons Surface Composition team leader with the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. “Soon we will know if there are differences in the presence of methane ice from one part of Pluto to another.”

Methane (chemical formula CH4) is an odorless, colorless gas that is present underground and in the atmosphere on Earth. on Pluto, methane may be primordial, inherited from the solar nebula from which the solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago. Methane was originally detected on Pluto’s surface by a team of ground-based astronomers led by New Horizons team member Dale Cruikshank, of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California.

Come Fly with New Horizons on its Approach to Pluto

Images from New Horizons show the view from aboard the spacecraft closes in on the Pluto system for a July 14 flyby.

This time-lapse approach movie was made from images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera aboard New Horizons spacecraft taken between May 28 and June 25, 2015. During that time the spacecraft distance to Pluto decreased almost threefold, from about 35 million miles to 14 million miles (56 million kilometers to 22 million kilometers). The images show Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, growing in apparent size as New Horizons closes in. As it rotates, Pluto displays a strongly contrasting surface dominated by a bright northern hemisphere, with a discontinuous band of darker material running along the equator. Charon has a dark polar region, and there are indications of brightness variations at lower latitudes.

This movie, from New Horizons’ highest-resolution imager, shows Pluto and Charon as the spacecraft closes in. In the annotated version, Pluto’s prime meridian (the region of the planet that faces Charon) is shown in yellow and the equator is shown in pink.

Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

“Alice” Instrument Practices for Sunset and Sunrise Observations of Pluto’s Atmosphere

The location of the Alice ultraviolet imaging spectrograph on the New Horizons spacecraft is indicated.

Credits: Photo credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

This is how the Sun looked in ultraviolet light to NASA’s SOHO spacecraft on June 16, 2015, when New Horizons observed the Sun at similar ultraviolet wavelengths.

Credits: NASA

The New Horizons spacecraft has made a critical observation in preparation for its upcoming observations of Pluto’s tenuous atmosphere. Just hours after its flyby of Pluto on July 14, the spacecraft will observe sunlight passing through the planet’s atmosphere, to help scientists determine the atmosphere’s composition. “It will be as if Pluto were illuminated from behind by a trillion-watt light bulb,” said Randy Gladstone, a New Horizons scientist from Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. on June 16, New Horizons’ Alice ultraviolet imaging spectrograph successfully performed a test observation of the sun from 3.1 billion miles away (5 billion kilometers), which will be used to interpret the July 14 observations.

This spectrum of the Sun obtained by New Horizons’ Alice instrument on June 16, 2015, will be used to interpret the spacecraft’s upcoming observations of Pluto’s atmosphere.

Credits: Photo credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

New Horizons is now less than 11 million miles (18 million kilometers) from the Pluto system. The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally. 

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

To view images from New Horizons and learn more about the mission visit: http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and http://pluto.jhuapl.edu

Follow the New Horizons mission on social media, and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. The mission’s official NASA Twitter account is @NASANewHorizons. Live updates will be available on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/new.horizons1

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Lillian Gipson

Tags:  New Horizons, Pluto, Solar System,

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New Horizons

July 1, 2015

New Horizons ‘Speeds Up’ on Final Approach to Pluto

In the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, flight controllers (from left) Chris Regan and Becca Sepan monitor data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on June 30, after a short course-correction maneuver refined New Horizons path toward a flyby of Pluto on July 14.

With just two weeks to go before its historic July 14 flight past Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft tapped the accelerator late last night and tweaked its path toward the Pluto system.

In the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman and operations team member Karl Whittenburg watch for data confirming that the Pluto-bound NASA spacecraft successfully executed a course correction maneuver on June 30.

The 23-second thruster burst was the third and final planned targeting maneuver of New Horizons’ approach phase to Pluto; it was also the smallest of the nine course corrections since New Horizons launched in January 2006. It bumped the spacecraft’s velocity by just 27 centimeters per second – about  one-half mile per hour – slightly adjusting its arrival time and position at a flyby close-approach target point approximately 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface.

While it may appear to be a minute adjustment for a spacecraft moving 32,500 miles per hour, the impact is significant. New Horizons Mission Design Lead Yanping Guo, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, says without the adjustment, New Horizons would have arrived 20 seconds late and 114 miles (184 kilometers) off-target from the spot where it will measure the properties of Pluto’s atmosphere. Those measurements depend on radio signals being sent from Earth to New Horizons at precise times as the spacecraft flies through the shadows of Pluto and Pluto’s largest moon, Charon.

In fact, timing and accuracy are critical for all New Horizons flyby observations, since those commands are stored in the spacecraft’s computers and programmed to “execute” at exact times.

This latest shift was based on radio-tracking data on the spacecraft and range-to-Pluto measurements made by optical-navigation imaging of the Pluto system taken by New Horizons in recent weeks. Using commands transmitted to the spacecraft on June 28, the thrusters began firing at 11:01 p.m. EDT on June 29 and stopped 23 seconds later. Telemetry indicating the spacecraft was healthy and that the maneuver went as designed began reaching the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at APL, through NASA’s Deep Space Network at 5:30 a.m. EDT on June 30.

“We are really on the final path,” said New Horizons Project Manager Glen Fountain, of APL. “It just gets better and more exciting every day.” 

“This maneuver was perfectly performed by the spacecraft and its operations team,” added mission principal investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “Now we’re set to fly right down the middle of the optimal approach corridor.”

New Horizons is now about 10 million miles (16 million kilometers) from the Pluto system – some 2.95 billion miles (4.75 billion kilometers) from Earth.

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Lillian Gipson

Tags:  New Horizons, Pluto, Solar System,

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New Horizons

June 20, 2015

Pluto and its Moon Charon, Now in Color

The first color movies from NASA’s New Horizons mission show Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, and the complex orbital dance of the two bodies, known as a double planet.

“It’s exciting to see Pluto and Charon in motion and in color,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. “Even at this low resolution, we can see that Pluto and Charon have different colors—Pluto is beige-orange, while Charon is grey. Exactly why they are so different is the subject of debate.”

New Horizons will make its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, zipping by about 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) above the surface. It’s the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, a relic of solar system formation beyond Neptune. Sending a spacecraft on this almost 3-billion mile journey will help us answer basic questions about the surface properties, atmospheres, and moons of the Pluto system.

These near-true color movies were assembled from images made in three colors — blue, red and near-infrared – by the Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera on the instrument known as Ralph, a “Honeymooners” reference that classic TV fans can appreciate. The images were taken on nine different occasions from May 29-June 3.

Although the two movies were prepared from the same images, they display the Pluto-Charon pair from different perspectives. one movie is “Pluto-centric”, meaning that Charon is shown as it moves in relation to Pluto, which is digitally centered in the movie. (The North Pole of Pluto is at the top.) Pluto makes one turn around its axis every 6 days, 9 hours and 17.6 minutes—the same amount of time that Charon rotates in its orbit. Looking closely at the images in this movie, one can detect a regular shift in Pluto’s brightness—due to the brighter and darker terrains on its differing faces.

The second movie is barycentric, meaning that both Pluto and Charon are shown in motion around the binary’s barycenter – the shared center of gravity between the two bodies as they do a planetary jig. Because Pluto is much more massive than Charon, the barycenter (marked by a small “x” in the movie) is much closer to Pluto than to Charon. 

As New Horizons closes in its intended target, the best is yet to come. “Color observations are going to get much, much better, eventually resolving the surfaces of Charon and Pluto at scales of just kilometers,” said Cathy Olkin, New Horizons deputy project scientist from SwRI. “This will help us unravel the nature of their surfaces and the way volatiles transport around their surfaces. I can’t wait; it’s just a few weeks away!”

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), headquartered in San Antonio, is the principal investigator and leads the mission. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the spacecraft.

Ralph is a joint project between SwRI, Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu

Follow the New Horizons mission on social media, and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. The mission’s official NASA Twitter account is @NASANewHorizons. Live updates will be available on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/new.horizons1

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Lillian Gipson

Tags:  Moons, New Horizons, Pluto, Solar System,

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New Horizons

June 12, 2015

M15-093

NASA Announces Television Coverage, Media Activities for Pluto Flyby

NASA is inviting media to cover New Horizons’ historic Pluto flyby in mid-July, including the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14, from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, site of the mission operations center.

Media who wish to cover the events at APL must receive accreditation from the APL Public Affairs Office by June 30. Earlier registration is strongly encouraged, as space is very limited. To apply, and for more information, visit:

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/Media-Registration.php

NASA also will provide comprehensive coverage on NASA Television, and the agency’s website and social media accounts as the spacecraft closes in on Pluto in the coming weeks.

The schedule for event coverage is subject to change, with daily updates posted online and in the New Horizons Media Center at APL. Highlights of the current schedule, all times EDT, include:

June 16, 23 and 30
11:30 a.m. -- Mission Updates

Weekly pre-flyby updates on NASA TV will provide an overview of the New Horizons mission, the spacecraft and its suite of instruments, the July 14 flyby, and a summary of Pluto science to date.

July 7- 12
11:30 a.m. -- Final approach to Pluto; live daily mission updates on NASA TV

July 12
1 - 5 p.m. -- New Horizons Media Center opens at APL

July 13
11 a.m. – noon -- Media briefing: Mission Status and What to Expect. (live on NASA TV)

2:30 – 5:30 p.m. -- Panels: APL’s Endeavors in Space and the latest on New Horizons (no NASA TV coverage)

July 14
7:30 a.m. – Media Briefing: Arrival at Pluto, Inside the Pluto System and New Horizons’ Perilous Path (live on NASA TV)

At 7:49 a.m., the New Horizons spacecraft will make history as flies past Pluto, after a journey of more than nine years and 3 billion miles. For much of the day the New Horizons spacecraft will be out of communication with mission control as it gathers data on Pluto and its moons.

The moment of closest approach will be marked with a live NASA TV broadcast that includes a countdown, a discussion of images and data received thus far, and what’s expected next as New Horizons makes its way past Pluto and potentially dangerous debris. Follow the path of the spacecraft in real time with a visualization of the actual trajectory data, using NASA’s Eyes on Pluto.  

9 a.m. – noon -- Interview Opportunities (no NASA TV coverage)

Informal group briefings and availability for one-on-one interviews. An updated schedule will be posted in the New Horizons Media Center.

Noon – 3 p.m. – Panel Discussions (no NASA TV coverage)

·         New Horizons mission overview and history

·         Pluto system discoveries on approach

·         Mariner 4 and Pluto: 50 years to the day

8 – 9:15 p.m. -- NASA TV program, Phone Home, broadcast from APL Mission Control

NASA TV will share the suspenseful moments of this historic event with the public and museums around the world. The New Horizons spacecraft will send a preprogrammed signal after the close approach. The mission team on Earth should receive the signal at about 9:02 p.m. When New Horizons “phones home,” there will be a celebration of its success and the anticipation of data to come over the days and months ahead.  

9:15 – 10 p.m. -- Media Briefing: New Horizons Health and Mission Status (live on NASA TV)

July 15
Noon – 3 p.m. -- Interview Opportunities (no NASA TV coverage)

Informal group briefings and availability for one-on-one interviews. An updated schedule will be posted in the New Horizons Media Center.

TBD -- Media Briefing: Seeing Pluto in a New Light (live on NASA TV)

Release of close-up images of Pluto’s surface and moons, along with initial science team reactions

New Horizons is the first mission to the Kuiper Belt, a gigantic zone of icy bodies and mysterious small objects orbiting beyond Neptune. This region also is known as the “third” zone of our solar system, beyond the inner rocky planets and outer gas giants.

APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

or

http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates will be available on the mission Facebook page.

-end-

Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1077
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov / laura.l.cantillo@nasa.gov

Mike Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
240-228-7536
michael.buckley@jhuapl.edu

Maria Stothoff
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
210-522-3305
maria.stothoff@swri.org

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  New Horizons, Pluto,

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Pluto

May 29, 2015

M15-085

NASA to Hold Media Call to Discuss Surprising Observations of Pluto’s Moons

NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 3, to discuss the Hubble Space Telescope’s surprising observations of how Pluto’s moons behave, and how these new discoveries are being used in the planning for the New Horizons Pluto flyby in July.

Participants in the teleconference will be:

·         John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington

·         Mark Showalter, senior research scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California

·         Douglas Hamilton, professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park

·         John Spencer, scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado

·         Heidi Hammel, executive vice president of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington

To participate by phone, reporters must contact Felicia Chou at 202-358-0257 or felicia.chou@nasa.gov and provide their media affiliation no later than 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live at:

http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio

For information about NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

For information about Pluto and NASA’s New Horizons mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

-end-

Felicia Chou
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0257
felicia.chou@nasa.gov

Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
410-338-4514
villard@stsci.edu

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  Hubble Space Telescope, New Horizons, Pluto,

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Pluto

May 29, 2015

So Far, All Clear: New Horizons Team Completes First Search for Pluto System Hazards

NASA’s New Horizons team has analyzed the first set of hazard-search images of the Pluto system taken by the spacecraft itself – and so far, all looks clear for the spacecraft’s safe passage
 

This image shows the results of the New Horizons team’s first search for potentially hazardous material around Pluto, conducted May 11-12, 2015, from a range of 47 million miles (76 million kilometers). The image combines 48 10-second exposures, taken with the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), to offer the most sensitive view yet of the Pluto system. The left panel is a combination of the original images before any processing. The combined glare of Pluto and its large moon Charon in the center of the field, along with the thousands of background stars, overwhelm any faint moons or rings that might pose a threat to the New Horizons spacecraft. The central panel is the same image after extensive processing to remove Pluto and Charon’s glare and most of the background stars, revealing Pluto’s four small moons -- Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra -- as points of light. The right panel overlays the orbits and locations of all five moons, including Charon. Remaining unlabeled spots and blemishes in the processed image are imperfectly removed stars, including variable stars which appear as bright or dark dots. The faint grid pattern is an artifact of the image processing. Celestial north is up in these images.

The observations were made May 11-12 from a range of 47 million miles (76 million kilometers) using the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons. For these observations, LORRI was instructed to take 144 10-second exposures, designed to allow a highly sensitive search for faint satellites, rings or dust sheets in the system. The mission team is looking carefully for any indications of dust or debris that might threaten New Horizons before the spacecraft’s flight through the Pluto system on July 14; a particle as small as a grain of rice could be fatal. 

The observations, downlinked to Earth May 12-15 and processed and analyzed May 12-18, detected Pluto and all five of its known moons, but no rings, new moons, or hazards of any kind. The New Horizons hazard detection team, led by John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, determined that small satellites with about half the brightness of Pluto’s faintest known moon, Styx, could have been detected at this range.  Any undiscovered moons outside the orbit of Pluto’s largest and closest moon, Charon, are thus likely smaller than 3-10 miles (5-15 kilometers) in diameter. If any undiscovered rings are present around Pluto outside Charon’s orbit, they must be very faint or narrow – less than 1,000 miles wide or reflecting less than one 5-millionth of the incoming sunlight. 

The next hazard-search images will be taken May 29-30, and should have about twice the sensitivity of the first batch. The team expects to complete a thorough analysis of the data and report on its results by June 12. The New Horizons team has until July 4 to divert the spacecraft to one of three alternate routes if any dangers are found.

New Horizons is nearly 2.95 billion miles from home, speeding toward Pluto and its moons at just under 750,000 miles per day. The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally. 

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio and Boulder, Colorado, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Tricia Talbert

Tags:  New Horizons, Pluto,

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Pluto

May 28, 2015

NASA’s New Horizons Sees More Detail as It Draws Closer to Pluto

What a difference 20 million miles makes! Images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft are growing in scale as the spacecraft approaches its mysterious target. The new images, taken May 8-12 using a powerful telescopic camera and downlinked last week, reveal more detail about Pluto’s complex and high contrast surface. 

These images show Pluto in the latest series of New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) photos, taken May 8-12, 2015, compared to LORRI images taken one month earlier. In the month between these image sets, New Horizons’ distance to Pluto decreased from 68 million miles (110 million kilometers) to 47 million miles (75 million kilometers), as the spacecraft speeds toward a close encounter with the Pluto system in mid-July. The April images are shown on the left, with the May images on the right. All have been rotated to align Pluto’s rotational axis with the vertical direction (up-down), as depicted schematically in the center panel. Between April and May, Pluto appears to get larger as the spacecraft gets closer, with Pluto’s apparent size increasing by approximately 50 percent. Pluto rotates around its axis every 6.4 Earth days, and these images show the variations in Pluto’s surface features during its rotation. These images are displayed at four times the native LORRI image size, and have been processed using a method called deconvolution, which sharpens the original images to enhance features on Pluto. Deconvolution can occasionally add “false” details, so the finest details in these pictures will need to be confirmed by images taken from closer range in the next few weeks. All of the images are displayed using the same linear brightness scale.

The images were taken from just under 50 million miles (77 million kilometers) away, using the  Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons. Because New Horizons was approximately 20 million miles closer to Pluto in mid-May than in mid-April, the new images contain about twice as many pixels on the object as images made in mid-April.

A technique called image deconvolution sharpens the raw, unprocessed pictures beamed back to Earth. In the April images, New Horizons scientists determined that Pluto has broad surface markings – some bright, some dark – including a bright area at one pole that may be a polar cap. The newer imagery released here shows finer details. Deconvolution can occasionally produce spurious details, so the finest details in these images will need confirmation from images to be made from closer range in coming weeks.

"As New Horizons closes in on Pluto, it's transforming from a point of light to a planetary object of intense interest," said NASA's Director of Planetary Science Jim Green. "We're in for an exciting ride for the next seven weeks." 
   
“These new images show us that Pluto’s differing faces are each distinct; likely hinting at what may be very complex surface geology or variations in surface composition from place to place,” added New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “These images also continue to support the hypothesis that Pluto has a polar cap whose extent varies with longitude; we’ll be able to make a definitive determination of the polar bright region’s iciness when we get compositional spectroscopy of that region in July.” 

The images New Horizons returns will dramatically improve in coming weeks as the spacecraft speeds closer to its July 14 encounter with the Pluto system, covering about 750,000 miles per day.

“By late June the image resolution will be four times better than the images made May 8-12, and by the time of closest approach, we expect to obtain images with more than 5,000 times the current resolution,” said Hal Weaver, the mission’s project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. 

Following a January 2006 launch, New Horizons is currently about 2.95 billion miles from home; the spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally. 

APL designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Tricia Talbert

Tags:  New Horizons, Pluto,

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New Horizons

May 16, 2015

M15-075

NASA Opens Media Accreditation for New Horizons Pluto Flyby

NASA has opened media accreditation for the New Horizons spacecraft’s historic encounter with Pluto in mid-July.

Media will have the opportunity to cover the New Horizons’ mission, including the spacecraft’s closest approach to the dwarf planet on July 14, from the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland where the mission operations center resides. NASA also will provide comprehensive NASA Television, NASA.gov and social media coverage of the New Horizons mission as the spacecraft closes in on Pluto in the coming weeks. Details of coverage will be released as they become available.  

Following a nine-year journey of more than 3 billion miles, New Horizons will pass approximately 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface. The spacecraft will zip through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 mph (about 50,000 km/h) with the most powerful suite of science instruments ever sent to the outer solar system.

Media who wish to cover the July 14 flyby and other related events that week at APL must get accreditation from the APL Public Affairs Office by June 30. Earlier registration is strongly encouraged as space is very limited. To apply, and for more information, visit:

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/Media-Registration.php

New Horizons is the first mission to the Kuiper Belt, a gigantic zone of icy bodies and mysterious small objects orbiting beyond Neptune. It marks the first direct exploration of the “third” zone of our solar system, beyond the inner rocky planets and outer gas giants.

APL designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

Follow the New Horizons mission on social media, and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. The mission’s official NASA Twitter account is @NASANewHorizons. Live updates will be available on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/new.horizons1

-end-

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Mike Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
240-228-7536
michael.buckley@jhuapl.edu

Maria Stothoff
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
210-522-3305
maria.stothoff@swri.org

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Sarah Ramsey

Tags:  New Horizons,

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New Horizons

May 13, 2015

NASA’s New Horizons Spots Pluto’s Faintest Known Moons

It’s a complete Pluto family photo – or at least a photo of the family members we’ve already met.  

For the first time, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has photographed Kerberos and Styx – the smallest and faintest of Pluto’s five known moons. Following the spacecraft’s detection of Pluto’s giant moon Charon in July 2013, and Pluto’s smaller moons Hydra and Nix in July 2014 and January 2015, respectively, New Horizons is now within sight of all the known members of the Pluto system.

“New Horizons is now on the threshold of discovery,” said mission science team member John Spencer, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “If the spacecraft observes any additional moons as we get closer to Pluto, they will be worlds that no one has seen before.” 

Drawing ever closer to Pluto in mid-May, New Horizons will begin its first search for new moons or rings that might threaten the spacecraft on its passage through the Pluto system. The images of faint Styx and Kerberos shown here are allowing the search team to refine the techniques they will use to analyze those data, which will push the sensitivity limits even deeper.

Kerberos and Styx were discovered in 2011 and 2012, respectively, by New Horizons team members using the Hubble Space Telescope. Styx, circling Pluto every 20 days between the orbits of Charon and Nix, is likely just 4 to 13 miles (approximately 7 to 21 kilometers) in diameter, and Kerberos, orbiting between Nix and Hydra with a 32-day period, is just 6 to 20 miles (approximately 10 to 30 kilometers) in diameter. Each is 20 to 30 times fainter than Nix and Hydra. 

The images detecting Kerberos and Styx shown here were taken with New Horizons’ most sensitive camera, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), from April 25-May 1. Each observation consists of five 10-second exposures that have been added together to make the image in the left panel. Images were extensively processed to reduce the bright glare of Pluto and Charon and largely remove the dense field of background stars (center and right panels). This reveals the faint satellites, whose positions and orbits - along with those of brighter moons Nix and Hydra -  are given in the right panel. 

“Detecting these tiny moons from a distance of more than 55 million miles is amazing, and a credit to the team that built our LORRI long-range camera and John Spencer’s team of moon and ring hunters,” added New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute.

Kerberos is visible in all of the images, though is partially obscured in the second image. Styx is not visible in the first image, only in subsequent ones; on April 25 it was obscured by electronic artifacts in the camera – the black and white streaks extending to the right of the extremely overexposed images of Pluto and Charon in the center of the frame. These artifacts point in different directions in different images due to the varying orientation of the spacecraft. Other unlabeled features in the processed images include the imperfectly removed images of background stars and other residual artifacts.

Although Styx and Kerberos are more visible in some frames than others, perhaps due to brightness fluctuations as they rotate on their axes, their identity is confirmed by their positions being exactly where they are predicted to be (in the center of the circles in the right panel).

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Tricia Talbert

Tags:  New Horizons, Pluto,

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Pluto

April 15, 2015

15-064

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Nears Historic July 14 Encounter with Pluto

This image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard New Horizons on April 9, 2015, from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers). It is the first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach.

Credits: NASA

More Briefing Materials

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is three months from returning to humanity the first-ever close up images and scientific observations of distant Pluto and its system of large and small moons.

"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, astronaut, and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington.  “In an unprecedented flyby this July, our knowledge of what the Pluto systems is really like will expand exponentially and I have no doubt there will be exciting discoveries."  

The fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons has traveled a longer time and farther away – more than nine years and three billion miles – than any space mission in history to reach its primary target. Its flyby of Pluto and its system of at least five moons on July 14 will complete the initial reconnaissance of the classical solar system. This mission also opens the door to an entirely new “third” zone of mysterious small planets and planetary building blocks in the Kuiper Belt, a large area with numerous objects beyond Neptune’s orbit.

The flyby caps a five-decade-long era of reconnaissance that began with Venus and Mars in the early 1960s, and continued through first looks at Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn in the 1970s and Uranus and Neptune in the 1980s.

Reaching this third zone of our solar system – beyond the inner, rocky planets and outer gas giants – has been a space science priority for years. In the early 2000s the National Academy of Sciences ranked the exploration of the Kuiper Belt – and particularly Pluto and its largest moon, Charon – as its top priority planetary mission for the coming decade.

New Horizons – a compact, lightweight, powerfully equipped probe packing the most advanced suite of cameras and spectrometers ever sent on a first reconnaissance mission – is NASA’s answer to that call.

“This is pure exploration; we’re going to turn points of light into a planet and a system of moons before your eyes!” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “New Horizons is flying to Pluto – the biggest, brightest and most complex of the dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt. This 21st century encounter is going to be an exploration bonanza unparalleled in anticipation since the storied missions of Voyager in the 1980s.”

Pluto, the largest known body in the Kuiper Belt, offers a nitrogen atmosphere, complex seasons, distinct surface markings, an ice-rock interior that may harbor an ocean, and at least five moons. Among these moons, the largest – Charon - may itself sport an atmosphere or an interior ocean, and possibly even evidence of recent surface activity.

“There’s no doubt, Charon is a rising star in terms of scientific interest, and we can’t wait to reveal it in detail in July,” said Leslie Young, deputy project scientist at SwRI.

Pluto’s smaller moons also are likely to present scientific opportunities. When New Horizons was started in 2001, it was a mission to just Pluto and Charon, before the four smaller moons were discovered.

The spacecraft’s suite of seven science instruments – which includes cameras, spectrometers, and plasma and dust detectors – will map the geology of Pluto and Charon and map their surface compositions and temperatures; examine Pluto’s atmosphere, and search for an atmosphere around Charon; study Pluto’s smaller satellites; and look for rings and additional satellites around Pluto.

Currently, even with New Horizons closer to Pluto than the Earth is to the Sun, the Pluto system resembles little more than bright dots in the distance. But teams operating the spacecraft are using these views to refine their knowledge of Pluto’s location, and skillfully navigate New Horizons toward a precise target point 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) from Pluto’s surface. That targeting is critical, since the computer commands that will orient the spacecraft and point its science instruments are based on knowing the exact time and location that New Horizons passes Pluto.

“Our team has worked hard to get to this point, and we know we have just one shot to make this work,” said Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, which built and operates the spacecraft. “We’ve plotted out each step of the Pluto encounter, practiced it over and over, and we’re excited the ‘real deal’ is finally here.”

The spacecraft’s work doesn’t end with the July flyby. Because it gets one shot at its target, New Horizons is designed to gather as much data as it can, as quickly as it can, taking about 100 times as much data on close approach as it can send home before flying away. And although the spacecraft will send select, high-priority datasets home in the days just before and after close approach, the mission will continue returning the data stored in onboard memory for a full 16 months.

“New Horizons is one of the great explorations of our time,” said New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver at APL. “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.”

APL manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern of SwRI is the principal investigator. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For more information on New Horizons, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

and

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu

-end-

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Michael Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
240-228-7536
michael.buckley@jhuapl.edu

Maria Stothoff
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
210-522-3305
maria.stothoff@swri.org

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  Dwarf Planets, New Horizons, Pluto, Solar System,

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New Horizons

Jan. 16, 2015

15-011

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Begins First Stages of Pluto Encounter

NASA’s New Horizons is the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt of icy, rocky mini-worlds on the solar system’s outer frontier. This animation follows the New Horizons spacecraft as it leaves Earth after its January 2006 launch, through a gravity-assist flyby of Jupiter in February 2007, to the encounter with Pluto and its moons in summer 2015.

Credits: NASA/JHUAPL

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft recently began its long-awaited, historic encounter with Pluto. The spacecraft is entering the first of several approach phases that culminate July 14 with the first close-up flyby of the dwarf planet, 4.67 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) from Earth.

“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,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “The New Horizons team worked very hard to prepare for this first phase, and they did it flawlessly.”

The fastest spacecraft when it was launched, New Horizons lifted off in January 2006. It awoke from its final hibernation period last month after a voyage of more than 3 billion miles, and will soon pass close to Pluto, inside the orbits of its five known moons. In preparation  for the close encounter, the mission’s science, engineering and spacecraft operations teams configured the piano-sized probe for distant observations of the Pluto system that start Sunday, Jan. 25 with a long-range photo shoot.

The images captured by New Horizons’ telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) will give mission scientists a continually improving look at the dynamics of Pluto’s moons. The images also will play a critical role in navigating the spacecraft as it covers the remaining 135 million miles (220 million kilometers) to Pluto.

Timeline of the approach and departure phases — surrounding close approach on July 14, 2015 — of the New Horizons Pluto encounter.

Credits: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI

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

LORRI will take hundreds of pictures of Pluto over the next few months to refine current estimates of the distance between the spacecraft and the dwarf planet. Though the Pluto system will resemble little more than bright dots in the camera’s view until May, mission navigators will use the data to design course-correction maneuvers to aim the spacecraft toward its target point this summer. The first such maneuver could occur as early as March.

“We need to refine our knowledge of where Pluto will be when New Horizons flies past it,” said 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.”

The “optical navigation” campaign that begins this month marks the first time pictures from New Horizons will be used to help pinpoint Pluto’s location.

Throughout the first approach phase, which runs until spring, New Horizons will conduct a significant amount of additional science. Spacecraft instruments will gather 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. In addition to Pluto, this area, the unexplored outer region of the solar system, potentially includes thousands of similar icy, rocky small planets.

More intensive studies of Pluto begin in the spring, when the cameras and spectrometers aboard New Horizons will be able to provide image resolutions higher than the most powerful telescopes on Earth. Eventually, the spacecraft will obtain images good enough to map Pluto and its moons more accurately than achieved by previous planetary reconnaissance missions.

APL manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), headquartered in San Antonio, is the principal investigator and leads the mission. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the spacecraft.

For more information about the New Horizons mission, visit:

www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

and

http://pluto.jhuapl.edu

-end-

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Michael Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
240-228-7536
michael.buckley@jhuapl.edu

Maria Stothoff
Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
210-522-3305
maria.stothoff@swri.org

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  New Horizons, Pluto, Solar System,

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New Horizons

Nov. 14, 2014

New Horizons Set to Wake Up for Pluto Encounter

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft comes out of hibernation for the last time on Dec. 6. Between now and then, while the Pluto-bound probe enjoys three more weeks of electronic slumber, work on Earth is well under way to prepare the spacecraft for a six-month encounter with the dwarf planet that begins in January.

“New Horizons is healthy and cruising quietly through deep space – nearly three billion miles from home – but its rest is nearly over,” says Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. “It’s time for New Horizons to wake up, get to work, and start making history.”

Since launching in January 2006, New Horizons has spent 1,873 days in hibernation – about two-thirds of its flight time – spread over 18 separate hibernation periods from mid-2007 to late 2014 that ranged from 36 days to 202 days long.

In hibernation mode much of the spacecraft is unpowered; the onboard flight computer monitors system health and broadcasts a weekly beacon-status tone back to Earth. on average, operators woke New Horizons just over twice each year to check out critical systems, calibrate instruments, gather science data, rehearse Pluto-encounter activities and perform course corrections when necessary.

New Horizons pioneered routine cruise-flight hibernation for NASA. Not only has hibernation reduced wear and tear on the spacecraft’s electronics, it lowered operations costs and freed up NASA Deep Space Network tracking and communication resources for other missions.

Ready to Go

Next month’s wake-up call was preprogrammed into New Horizons’ on-board computer in August, commanding it come out of hibernation at 3 p.m. EST on Dec. 6. About 90 minutes later New Horizons will transmit word to Earth that it’s in “active” mode; those signals, even traveling at light speed, will need four hours and 25 minutes to reach home. Confirmation should reach the mission operations team at APL around 9:30 p.m. EST. At the time New Horizons will be more than 2.9 billion miles from Earth, and just 162 million miles – less than twice the distance between Earth and the sun – from Pluto.

After several days of collecting navigation-tracking data, downloading and analyzing the cruise science and spacecraft housekeeping data stored on New Horizons’ digital recorders, the mission team will begin activities that include conducting final tests on the spacecraft’s science instruments and operating systems, and building and testing the computer-command sequences that will guide New Horizons through its flight to and reconnaissance of the Pluto system. Tops on the mission’s science list are characterizing the global geology and topography of Pluto and its large moon Charon, mapping their surface compositions and temperatures, examining Pluto’s atmospheric composition and structure, studying Pluto’s smaller moons and searching for new moons and rings.

New Horizons’ seven-instrument science payload, developed under direction of Southwest Research Institute, includes advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a compact multicolor camera, a high-resolution telescopic camera, two powerful particle spectrometers, a space-dust detector (designed and built by students at the University of Colorado) and two radio science experiments. The entire spacecraft, drawing electricity from a single radioisotope thermoelectric generator, operates on less power than a pair of 100-watt light bulbs.

Distant observations of the Pluto system begin Jan. 15 and will continue until late July 2015; closest approach to Pluto is July 14.

“We’ve worked years to prepare for this moment,” says Mark Holdridge, New Horizons encounter mission manager at APL. “New Horizons might have spent most of its cruise time across nearly three billion miles of space sleeping, but our team has done anything but, conducting a flawless flight past Jupiter just a year after launch, putting the spacecraft through annual workouts, plotting out each step of the Pluto flyby and even practicing the entire Pluto encounter on the spacecraft. We are ready to go.”

“The final hibernation wake up Dec. 6 signifies the end of an historic cruise across the entirety of our planetary system,” added New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. “We are almost on Pluto’s doorstep!”

The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory manages the New Horizons mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) is the principal investigator and leads the mission; SwRI leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft.

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Tricia Talbert

Tags:  Dwarf Planets, New Horizons, Pluto,

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New Horizons

Sep. 13, 2014

New Horizons Makes its First Detection of Pluto's Moon Hydra

Using its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), New Horizons made its first detection of Pluto's small, faint, outermost known moon, Hydra. The images were taken to practice the long-exposure mosaics that the New Horizons team will use to search for additional moons and potentially hazardous debris near Pluto as the spacecraft approaches the Pluto system in May and June 2015.

Analysis of those images in September by Science Team members John Spencer, of the Southwest Research Institute, and Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, revealed Hydra —a moon the mission didn't expect to detect until next January, when New Horizons will be about twice as close as it was in July.

Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

To detect Hydra, New Horizons took 48, 10-second images of Pluto on July 18 and again on July 20; the team combined half of them (which offered the best views of Hydra) to produce the very sensitive images on the dates shown. Pluto is the bright overexposed blob near the center of the image – the dark streak emerging to the right is a camera artifact caused by the intentional overexposure. The images on the two dates appear almost identical, but the difference between them is shown on the right. This "difference" image removes the crowded background of stars that doesn't change between images. Hydra, which has moved over the two days, is revealed as an overlapping pair of bright and dark spots just above Pluto. The bottom row shows the same images with Hydra's expected position on the two dates, identified in each image by the red and green crosshairs. Hydra's motion can just be seen at the expected location in the original images. Pluto's next-brightest small moon, Nix, is closer to Pluto and cannot yet be separated from Pluto's glare.

"I'm excited about this first detection of Hydra," says Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. "It came as a bit of a bonus from this summer's spacecraft activities."

The processing tools used to combine the images and look for moving targets are the same ones that the team will use to search for much smaller "new" moons when New Horizons is much closer to Pluto. New Horizons was still 267 million miles (430 million kilometers) from Pluto when the pictures were taken, and the fact that it can already see Hydra was an encouraging test of the team's ability to find faint moons on the final approach to Pluto.

"Using those techniques, Hydra popped right out of the data, though it's still very faint – several times fainter than the faintest objects the New Horizons camera was designed to detect – and still very close to Pluto," Spencer says. "We're thrilled to see it, because it shows that our satellite-search techniques work, and that our camera is operating superbly. But it's also exciting just to see a third member of the Pluto system come into view, as proof that we're almost there!"

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Tricia Talbert

Tags:  Dwarf Planets, Moons, New Horizons, Pluto,

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Pluto

Sep. 12, 2014

Awaiting New Results on Pluto’s Atmosphere

Artist’s impression of Pluto, with its wispy atmosphere. Data from New Horizons’ Alice ultraviolet spectrograph will answer a full range of questions about the composition and structure of that atmosphere.

Randy Gladstone
New Horizons Co-Investigator

What is Pluto’s atmosphere like? It seems like I’ve been wondering about that for decades! We’ve known so little for so long about Pluto’s atmosphere – other than it’s low-pressure, made mostly of molecular nitrogen (with a little methane and carbon monoxide mixed in) and may be quite extended – it’s nice to realize that we’ll know a whole lot more after New Horizons visits in summer 2015.

My professional interests on New Horizons lie with Pluto’s upper atmosphere – what it’s made of, how it interacts with space, and how it is processed by sunlight into different gases and aerosols. A problem in planning atmospheric observations for New Horizons during the flyby is that we really don’t know what to expect. only a few models have been made that try to predict the composition of Pluto’s atmosphere, and they don’t agree very much with each other because of the many present uncertainties. So our plans generally include a lot of survey-type observations, where we try not to assume too much about what we will detect, but are ready for anything.

The best example of this is the Pluto solar occultation observation. The Alice ultraviolet spectrograph will watch the Sun set (and then rise again) as New Horizons flies through Pluto’s shadow, about an hour after closest approach. Watching how the different colors of sunlight fade (and then return) as New Horizons enters (and leaves) the shadow will tell us nearly all we could ask for about composition (all gases have unique absorption signatures at the ultraviolet wavelengths covered by Alice) and structure (how those the absorption features vary with altitude will tell us about temperatures, escape rates and possibly about dynamics and clouds).

When the New Horizons data start coming down, these are the data I’ll be waiting for the most!

Randy Gladstone, of the Southwest Research Institute, leads the atmospheres theme group on the New Horizons Science Team. An expert in planetary aeronomy (studies of the upper atmosphere) and radiative transfer, he also serves on the Alice instrument team.

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Tricia Talbert

Tags:  Dwarf Planets, New Horizons, Pluto,

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New Horizons

Aug. 26, 2014

14-228

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft Crosses Neptune Orbit En Route to Historic Pluto Encounter

NASA's Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft captured this view of the giant planet Neptune and its large moon Triton on July 10, 2014, from a distance of about 2.45 billion miles (3.96 billion kilometers) - more than 26 times the distance between the Earth and sun.

Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has traversed the orbit of Neptune. This is its last major crossing en route to becoming the first probe to make a close encounter with distant Pluto on July 14, 2015.

The sophisticated piano-sized spacecraft, which launched in January 2006, reached Neptune’s orbit -- nearly 2.75 billion miles from Earth -- in a record eight years and eight months. New Horizons’ milestone matches precisely the 25th anniversary of the historic encounter of NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft with Neptune on Aug. 25, 1989.

“It’s a cosmic coincidence that connects one of NASA’s iconic past outer solar system explorers, with our next outer solar system explorer,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Exactly 25 years ago at Neptune, Voyager 2 delivered our ‘first’ look at an unexplored planet. Now it will be New Horizons' turn to reveal the unexplored Pluto and its moons in stunning detail next summer on its way into the vast outer reaches of the solar system.”

New Horizons now is about 2.48 billion miles from Neptune -- nearly 27 times the distance between the Earth and our sun -- as it crosses the giant planet’s orbit at 10:04 p.m. EDT Monday. Although the spacecraft will be much farther from the planet than Voyager 2’s closest approach, New Horizons' telescopic camera was able to obtain several long-distance “approach” shots of Neptune on July 10.

“NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 explored the entire middle zone of the solar system where the giant planets orbit,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Now we stand on Voyager’s broad shoulders to explore the even more distant and mysterious Pluto system.”

Several senior members of the New Horizons science team were young members of Voyager’s science team in 1989. Many remember how Voyager 2’s approach images of Neptune and its planet-sized moon Triton fueled anticipation of the discoveries to come. They share a similar, growing excitement as New Horizons begins its approach to Pluto.

“The feeling 25 years ago was that this was really cool, because we’re going to see Neptune and Triton up-close for the first time,” said Ralph McNutt of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, who leads the New Horizons energetic-particle investigation and served on the Voyager plasma-analysis team. “The same is happening for New Horizons. Even this summer, when we’re still a year out and our cameras can only spot Pluto and its largest moon as dots, we know we’re in for something incredible ahead.”

Voyager’s visit to the Neptune system revealed previously unseen features of Neptune itself, such as the Great Dark Spot, a massive storm similar to, but not as long-lived, as Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Voyager also, for the first time, captured clear images of the ice giant’s ring system, too faint to be clearly viewed from Earth. “There were surprises at Neptune and there were surprises at Triton,” said Ed Stone, Voyager’s long-standing project scientist from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “I’m sure that will continue at Pluto.”

Many researchers feel the 1989 Neptune flyby -- Voyager’s final planetary encounter -- might have offered a preview of what’s to come next summer. Scientists suggest that Triton, with its icy surface, bright poles, varied terrain and cryovolcanoes, is a Pluto-like object that Neptune pulled into orbit. Scientists recently restored Voyager’s footage of Triton and used it to construct the best global color map of that strange moon yet -- further whetting appetites for a Pluto close-up.

“There is a lot of speculation over whether Pluto will look like Triton, and how well they’ll match up,” McNutt said. “That’s the great thing about first-time encounters like this -- we don’t know exactly what we’ll see, but we know from decades of experience in first-time exploration of new planets that we will be very surprised.”

Similar to Voyager 1 and 2's historic observations, New Horizons also is on a path toward potential discoveries in the Kuiper Belt, which is a disc-shaped region of icy objects past the orbit of Neptune, and other unexplored realms of the outer solar system and beyond.

“No country except the United States has the demonstrated capability to explore so far away,” said Stern. “The U.S. has led the exploration of the planets and space to a degree no other nation has, and continues to do so with New Horizons. We’re incredibly proud that New Horizons represents the nation again as NASA breaks records with its newest, farthest and very capable planetary exploration spacecraft.”

Voyager 1 and 2 were launched 16 days apart in 1977, and one of the spacecraft visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 1 now is the most distant human-made object, about 12 billion miles (19 billion kilometers) away from the sun. In 2012, it became the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space. Voyager 2, the longest continuously operated spacecraft, is about 9 billion miles (15 billion kilometers) away from our sun.

New Horizons is the first mission in NASA’s New Frontiers program. APL manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. APL also built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft.

The Voyager spacecraft were built and continue to be operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The Voyager missions are part of NASA's Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate.

To view the Neptune images taken by New Horizons and learn more about the mission, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/voyager

-end-

 Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726
dwayne.c.brown@nasa.gov

Michael Buckley
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.
240-228-7536
michael.buckley@jhuapl.edu

Preston Dyches
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-5011
preston.dyches@jpl.nasa.gov
 

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: Karen Northon

Tags:  Neptune, New Horizons, Solar System,

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New Horizons

March 23, 2008

Europa Rising

New Horizons took this image of the icy moon Europa rising above Jupiter's cloud tops after the spacecraft's closest approach to Jupiter. The spacecraft was 2.3 million kilometers (1.4 million miles) from Jupiter and 3 million kilometers (1.8 million miles) from Europa when the picture was taken.

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
 

Last Updated: July 5, 2015

Editor: NASA Administrator

Tags:  Europa (Moon), Moons, New Horizons, Solar System,

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