Artist's concept of the New Horizons spacecraft encountering Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.
For the first time in history, Pluto will be seen up close as NASA's New Horizons mission makes a historic flyby of the dwarf planet. It has taken ten years for the New Horizons spacecraft to reach Pluto, and several years of advocacy beforehand to make the mission a reality. The Planetary Society's support for a mission to Pluto began 25 years ago and today stands as a shining example of the possibilities when the world's citizens are empowered to advocate for space exploration.
Planetary Radio LIVE
Join us as The Planetary Society’s Mat Kaplan talks with New Horizons scientists and Pluto-watchers as we monitor the Applied Physics Lab’s live webcast, broadcast from Maryland. Visit the event page for details including a list of our special guests! Watch the webast here if you can't join us in person.
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.
Last week, the pile of New Horizons LORRI camera raw image releases included nine frames from a high-resolution mosaic on Charon. Together with the color MVIC view, they make a 3D global photo of Pluto's moon. Other recently released goodies include a global backlit color image of Pluto and the first image that resolves the tiny moon Styx.
Now that New Horizons is regularly sending back data, the mission is settling into a routine of releasing a set of captioned images on Thursdays, followed by raw LORRI images on Friday. The Thursday releases give us the opportunity to see lovely color data from the spacecraft's Ralph MVIC instrument. This week, the newly available color data set covered Charon.
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.