The Pluto deluge has begun! Images are trickling in almost every day now including this one taken on July 7 when the spacecraft was just under 5 million miles (8 million km) from Pluto, and is the first to be received since the July 4 anomaly that sent the spacecraft into safe mode.The sprawling dark feature along the bottom is nicknamed “the whale”.
Look to the right and above the whale for a big heart-shaped outline. Can you spot it? It measures some 1,200 miles (2,000 km) across. Above them both is the slightly grayer north polar region. We’re less than a Pluto-day away (6.4 Earth days) from Pluto and really starting to see some structures now.
“The next time we see this part of Pluto at closest approach, a portion of this region will be imaged at about 500 times better resolution than we see today,” said Jeff Moore, Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team Leader of NASA’s Ames Research Center. “It will be incredible!”
Here’s the schedule of events (all in Eastern Time. Subtract one hour for Central, 2 hours for Mountain and 3 hours for Pacific). Because the probe will be busy shooting photos and gathering data during the flyby, we’ll have to wait until Wednesday July 15 to see the closest images of the Pluto and its moons.
July 8 – 10
11:30 a.m. – Final approach to Pluto; daily mission updates on NASA TV
July 11 – 12
11:30 a.m. – Final approach to Pluto; live mission updates on NASA TV
Monday, July 13
11 a.m. to noon – Media briefing: Mission status and what to expect; live on NASA TV
Tuesday, July 14
7:30 to 8 a.m. – Arrival at Pluto countdown program; live on NASA TV
At approximately 7:49 a.m., New Horizons is scheduled to be as close as the spacecraft will get to Pluto, approximately 7,800 miles (12,500 km) above the surface, after a journey of more than 9 years and 3 billion miles. For much of the day, New Horizons will be out of communication with mission control as it gathers data about Pluto and its moons.
The moment of closest approach will be marked during the live NASA TV broadcast that includes a countdown and discussion of what’s expected next as New Horizons makes its way past Pluto and potentially dangerous debris.
8 to 9 a.m. – Media briefing, image release; live on NASA TV
Wednesday, July 15
3 to 4 p.m. – Media Briefing: Seeing Pluto in a New Light; live on NASA TV and release of close-up images of Pluto’s surface and moons, along with initial science team reactions.
New Horizons is the first mission to the Kuiper Belt, a gigantic zone of icy bodies and mysterious small objects orbiting beyond Neptune. This region also is known as the “third” zone of our solar system, beyond the inner rocky planets and outer gas giants.