Three months ago, I posted an article explaining what to expect during the flyby. This is a revised version of the same post, with some errors corrected, the expected sizes of Nix and Hydra updated, and times of press briefings added.
Only about three weeks remain until the flyby — it's getting really close! I almost don't want the anticipation to end. New Horizons is now getting color images and is seeing features on Charon. Deep searches have yielded no new moons.
Pluto and Charon are growing larger in New Horizons' forward view, beginning to develop distinct personalities. A version of recent New Horizons photos processed by Björn Jónsson reveals an enigmatic dark line. Our maps of Pluto's surface are now as good as our maps of Mars and Venus, circa 1900!
Last week the New Horizons mission released a few new processed versions of their latest and greatest images of Pluto. They're the best images of Pluto that Earth has ever seen, but they're still a long way from what New Horizons will be able to show us, six weeks from now.
Today the New Horizons team released a new animation of images taken on approach to Pluto. The animation clearly shows how Pluto wobbles around the Pluto-Charon barycenter. It also shows something more exciting to the scientists: variations in brightness across the surface of Pluto. They also began releasing raw images to the Internet.
When New Horizons flies past Pluto in July, we will see a new, alien landscape in stark detail. At that point, we will have a lot to talk about. The only way we can talk about it is if those features, whatever they turn out to be, have names.
As I write this post, New Horizons is nearing the end of a weeklong optical navigation campaign. The last optical navigation images in the weeklong series will be taken tomorrow, but it will likely take two weeks or more for all the data to get to Earth. Two weeks! Why does it take so long?