Nasa probe closing in on unexplored Pluto

2015-04-16 16:20

(Shutterstock)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Cape Canaveral - The first spacecraft to visit distant Pluto, a dwarf planet in the solar system's frozen backyard, is still three months away from a close encounter, but already in viewing range, newly released photos show.

The New Horizons probe blasted off from Florida in January 2006 for a 5bn-kilometre journey to the Kuiper Belt region of the solar system located beyond Neptune.

During that time, Pluto once known as the ninth planet in the solar system, was demoted to dwarf planet status after the discovery of similar icy bodies in eccentric, distant orbits around the sun.

New Horizons will pass will pass about 12 500km from Pluto's surface on July 14.

Bright dot

With a diameter of just 2 302km - roughly two-thirds the size of Earth's moon - Pluto still looks like a bright dot in color images released by Nasa on Tuesday.

For now, the pictures have more value to engineers than scientists. They are serving as a road map for control teams to tweak New Horizon's approach.

The spacecraft does not have the fuel for a braking burn to put itself into orbit around Pluto. Rather, like the Voyager explorations in the late 1970s and 1980s, New Horizons will make its observations on the fly.

"Our team has worked hard to get to this point, and we know we have just one shot to make this work," Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement.

"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."

Flyby

After close-up studies of Pluto, its primary moon, Charon, and entourage of at least four smaller moons, New Horizons will continue speeding out into the Kuiper Belt, a region peppered with what are believed to be frozen remnants from the formation of the solar system some 4.6 billion years ago.

The team plans to petition Nasa for additional funds for a flyby of a second Kuiper Belt object in 2019.

In addition to its cameras, the spacecraft is outfitted with six scientific instruments, including light-splitting spectrometers, and plasma and dust detectors, to study the geology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures and look for an atmosphere, ring system and other moons.

Read more on:    nasa  |  us  |  space

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
6 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.