New Horizons – Journey to Pluto

After 9 years, only 5 days remain until New Horizons performs its flyby of Pluto!

Time to brush up on our (my) knowledge of this ex-planet.

“Did you know that until very recently, the best images we had of Pluto were just a few pixels in size? That’s right: those pictures you have in your head of what Pluto looks like are mere artists’ impressions.”

No!

During New Horizons’ close encounter we will see imagery revealing details as small as 50 metres across. For a sneak peak at what’s in store, check out this photo New Horizons took as it passed Jupiter.

Jupiter and Io taken by New Horizons in 2007 - image sourced from abc.net.au.
Jupiter and Io taken by New Horizons in 2007 – image sourced from commons.wikimedia.org.

New Horizons will pass as close as 12,500 km from Pluto, taking high resolution imagery as it floats by.¬†It will take as long as 16 months to return 1 day worth of photos to Earth due to the probes’ low bandwidth!

I’m excited to see what insight we can get into the geology of Pluto with these images. Given how little we know about it, the little data we get from the imagery and New Horizons’ other equipment will surely yield some incredible discoveries!

Unfortunately, after Pluto, New Horizons is destined for a lonely journey through the Kuiper Belt, an icy ring of debris beyond Neptune. While there are millions of objects in this belt, they are few and far between, leaving New Horizons very unlikely to come into contact with one.

From there it will be on to the Oort cloud, and finally,  interstellar space.

For a more detailed summary of Pluto, check out this article by ABC News.

Until next time.

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