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Nearly ten years after its launch, the New Horizons spacecraft will reach its closest encounter with Pluto on July 14, 2015. NASA and the world science community will celebrate the landmark at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University, as well as at “PlutoPalooza” events around the world.
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.
The team reported two weeks ago that the first attempts at observing 2014 MU69 were unsuccessful. But in their third try, on July 17, astronomers in Argentina saw the telltale sign of MU69's presence: a stellar wink.
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.
Casey is the public face of The Planetary Society's efforts to advance planetary exploration, planetary defense, and the search for life. He is a trusted expert in space policy and works to demystify the political and policy processes behind space exploration.
This image of haze layers above Pluto’s limb was taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. About 20 haze layers are seen; the layers have been found to typically extend horizontally over hundreds of kilometers, but are not strictly parallel to the surface. For example, scientists note a haze layer about 5 kilometers above the surface (lower left area of the image), which descends to the surface at the right.
Jupiter's moon Adrastea has an associated ring. One of the surprising discoveries from New Horizons' encounter with Jupiter was three clumps in the main rings following the tiny moon Adrastea (16 kilometers in diameter). The image shown here was taken from an animation of the clumps moving around the rings (Quicktime format, 4 MB).
Oberon, moon of Uranus (left), and Charon, moon of Pluto (right). These worlds are of similar size and both exhibit intriguing geology. Oberon was barely glimpsed by Voyager 2 as it flew by the Uranian system on January 24, 1986, while Charon received a close encounter by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. Charon's complex geology makes the barely-studied moons of Uranus even more tantalizing.