Will the New Horizons spacecraft successfully make its long-awaited flyby?
The wait will be a tense one. We’ll have confirmation that the flyby was successful at 8:53 p.m. EDT tonight.
Its light takes more than four hours to reach the Earth, making communication with New Horizons an exercise in patience.
Science enthusiasts can watch coverage of the Pluto flyby online at NASA TV from 7:30-9 a.m.
It will zoom past at 11.45 GMT today, but there will be a delay as the probe begins to send back data on Pluto and its moons.
Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will be the first to receive New Horizons’ Pluto flyby images as they are sent from the probe, the organisation has revealed.
“The big question, why are we here, that I think everyone’s had, even since cavemen times, this is where it feeds into”.
An image of Pluto, captured by New Horizons about 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface, shows the dwarf planet’s distinctive heart-shaped feature.
New Horizons has found that Pluto’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere is farther from the planet than anticipated. The spacecraft was 7,800 feet from the dwarf planet.
Still, the temporary shutdown caused New Horizons to miss an opportunity for some long-distance photography of the dwarf planet.
But Stern disagrees with the IAU’s decision. It was because of the fact that Pluto shares its vicinity in space with other objects, like “plutinos”.
The mission will complete the initial reconnaissance of the solar system with the first-ever look at Pluto.
The planets closest to our sun – Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars – are rocky.
Pluto was once a planet, rubbing shoulders with Neptune, hanging out with gas giant Jupiter and marveling at the rings of Saturn.
Some of his ashes were put in a canister about 2 inches wide and half-an-inch tall that was attached to the inside of the piano-sized spacecraft’s upper deck. It weighed 1,054 pounds (478 kilograms) at launch. Pluto is the second “O” in Google, while the probe swings past below.
An extension of the $720 million mission, not yet approved, could have New Horizons flying past another much smaller Kuiper Belt object, before departing the solar system.
“The universe has a lot more variety than we thought about, and that’s wonderful”, Stern said. “We’re going to learn more about that”.