In the span of a few days, Pluto and Charon have turned from spots into worlds. The latest images from New Horizons are showing Pluto and Charon to have unique faces, distinct from any other icy worlds in the solar system.
It took 16 years and five spacecraft designs to get a mission to Pluto. The Planetary Society was there through it all, always striving to help NASA push back our solar system's frontier.
New Horizons is a Triumph for Space Advocates
And Europa will be the same
New Horizons—what will be NASA’s greatest success of 2015—was cancelled multiple times in its early life, and many times before that in its previous incarnations. A mission to Pluto was not inevitable, despite the overwhelming scientific and public excitement.
The New Horizons digital time capsule is opened, with the New Horizons Pluto flyby only one week away, showing images from Earth 2006 – the year New Horizons launched. Fifty images and captions from people in 17 countries were selected to be in the time capsule to reflect things expected to change by 2015.
NASA held a press briefing today to explain the nature and cause of the spacecraft anomaly that halted science on New Horizons for four days as it was on its terminal approach to Pluto. As of the moment that I write this post, New Horizons is not yet performing science observations, but it will resume them tomorrow, July 7.
Only two days remain until New Horizons' historic encounter with Pluto....two Pluto days, that is. Pluto and Charon rotate together once every 6.4 days, so as New Horizons has approached the pair over the last week, we've been treated to one stately progression of all of their longitudes.
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.
New Horizons took its first color photo of Pluto and Charon, while Dawn obtained a 20-frame animation looking down on the north pole of a crescent Ceres.
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.