To mark New Horizons' close approach to Jupiter today, The Planetary Society has previewed images for a Digital Time Capsule that will soon be sealed until 2015.
When New Horizons arrives at Pluto eight years from now, the Society will open the time capsule to remember the world as it was when the mission launched. Fifty images submitted by people in 17 countries have been selected, and tonight's encounter with Jupiter will begin a countdown to closing the capsule until the spacecraft arrives at Pluto.
"When we open the Digital Time Capsule in 2015, New Horizons will be looking back at Earth from a distance measured both in time and in miles," said Bruce Betts, The Planetary Society's Director of Projects. "Much will have changed on that pale blue dot by the time the spacecraft arrives at Pluto."
In 2006, The Planetary Society sponsored a worldwide contest, in conjunction with the New Horizons mission, to choose images for the New Horizons Digital Time Capsule - a message sent from those who saw the spacecraft launch 13 months ago, to those who will inhabit Earth when the spacecraft arrives at Pluto.
Earth will be a different place from the world the spacecraft left behind, and the capsule will mark that passage of time by showcasing photographs of things in 2006 that people expect will be transformed by the time the spacecraft arrives at its destination in the outer reaches of the solar system.
The 50 participants, whose photos were selected for the time capsule, were entered into a random drawing. The winner, Bill Sterns from Wylie, Texas, received a trip to New Horizons mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland to witness the Jupiter flyby.
Hundreds of people from more than 40 countries submitted photographs with captions for consideration.
The New Horizons Digital Time Capsule has been placed on a DVD and will be kept securely at Planetary Society Headquarters in Pasadena, California, with a backup copy stored with the New Horizons project. As the spacecraft approaches its rendezvous with Pluto, it will send back a "family portrait" of the Pluto system. The return of this image from the spacecraft will be used as the signal for the time capsule to be opened and shown to Earth in 2015.
Photos for the New Horizons Digital Time Capsule were selected based upon the perceived likelihood that the subject of the photo will change over the nine year journay, the aesthetic quality of the photograph, and the originality of the subject.
New Horizons, the first of NASA's New Frontiers missions, will not only complete our "tour" of the planets, but will also increase our understanding of the composition of the solar system and its origins. The outer reaches of the solar system are very different from the better known regions occupied by the four terrestrial planets and the four gas giants. Billions of miles from the Sun, Pluto orbits among the vast field of rocky and icy debris known as the Kuiper belt. After a flyby of Pluto and its moons Charon, Nix, and Hydra, New Horizons plans to continue its flight and visit at least one other Kuiper belt object.