The best picture we have of Pluto is a blurry, pixelated blob, but that is about to change when a NASA spacecraft makes the first-ever flyby of the dwarf planet.
The US space agency’s unmanned New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to pass by Pluto on July 14, and will send back unprecedented high-resolution images, allowing people to glimpse the surface of the distant celestial body in rich detail.
Pluto was long considered the ninth planet in the solar system, and the furthest from the sun. It was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006.
Rocky on the inside and icy on the outside, Pluto has five moons and resides in the Kuiper Belt, a zone of the solar system that is a relic of the era of planetary formation more than 4.5 billion years ago, and contains comets and the building blocks of small planets.
“It sounds like science fiction but it is not,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator on the New Horizons mission.
“Three months from today, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will make the first exploration of the Pluto system, the Kuiper Belt and the farthest shore of exploration ever reached by humankind,” Stern told reporters Tuesday.
– Size of a piano –
New Horizons, about the size of a baby grand piano, is the fastest moving spacecraft ever launched, and is traveling about a million miles (1.6 million kilometers) a day on its way to this unexplored frontier.
The 1,000-pound (465-kilogram) vehicle launched in 2006, on a journey of some three billion miles to get to Pluto.
It is powered by plutonium since the sunlight is so weak at that distance that solar arrays — often used in other kinds of spacecraft — would not work.
Stern described the spacecraft as being “in perfect health” and carrying a “scientific arsenal” of the most powerful suite of seven scientific instruments ever brought to bear on the first reconnaissance of a new celestial body.
“Nothing like this has been done in a quarter century and nothing like this is planned by any space agency ever again,” Stern said.
New Horizons aims to map the geology of Pluto and its moons. The largest, Charon, is the size of Texas.
Scientists hope to learn more about the atmosphere of Pluto, which is mainly nitrogen like Earth’s, and find out if Pluto and Charon have interior oceans.
– Fast flyby –
In mid-July, the spacecraft will pass by Pluto at a speed of 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) per hour.
The New Horizons spacecraft management team on Earth is aiming for a target point 7,750 miles from Pluto’s surface, but it will not be easy to get into the right position.
“We are flying three billion miles. We have to hit a target that is 60 by 90 miles, and we have to hit it within 100 seconds after nine and a half years. That’s the kind of precision we have to navigate to,” said Glen Fountain, New Horizons project manager at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
Starting in May, high resolution images of Pluto and Charon should start arriving on Earth, said Cathy Olkin, New Horizons deputy project scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
The spacecraft will continue sending bits of data and photos from the flyby until October 2016.
“We are going to have surprises and discoveries over the next year and a half,” Olkin told reporters.
Already, some images have begun to arrive, and atmospheric studies of the surface ices will begin in May and June, followed by plasma data, geologic and color data in August and more science in September.
But on the day of the closest approach, July 14, there will be no images, she said.
“We need to keep our sights on Pluto, we need to train our instruments on Pluto,” Olkin said.
“We are all going to have to be patient while New Horizons is exploring Pluto.”
After the flyby of Pluto, New Horizons will carry on into the Kuiper Belt to study more about the history of planetary formation.
MSNBC’s Morning Joe scorches GOP senators for following Trump ‘over the cliff’ to election losses
MSNBC's Joe Scarborough hammered Senate Republicans for following President Donald Trump "over a cliff."
The "Morning Joe" host said the GOP had suffered losses in every election cycle since Trump won, and he said the president was a threat to his own party.
"All Republican incumbents who are endangered politicians," Scarborough said. "What bargain did they make that is worth following this man over the cliff? Who, right now, in early June, is on his way to losing in a landslide of his own?"
"These polls that we're going to show you in a minute are just a snapshot of where we are at the beginning of June," he added. "Things can change, but if they do change, it will be the first time in almost four years that elections have broken Donald Trump's way."
Donald Trump is no longer president: Robert Reich
You’d be forgiven if you hadn’t noticed. His verbal bombshells are louder than ever, but Donald J. Trump is no longer president of the United States.
By having no constructive response to any of the monumental crises now convulsing America, Trump has abdicated his office.
He is not governing. He’s golfing, watching cable TV, and tweeting.
How has Trump responded to the widespread unrest following the murder in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes as he was handcuffed on the ground?
He has incited more police violence. Trump called the protesters “thugs” and threatened to have them shot. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted, parroting a former Miami police chief whose words spurred race riots in the late 1960s.
Trump-loving Minneapolis police union boss calls the cops on a reporter for knocking on his door
Lt. Bob Kroll, the Trump-loving president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, called the police this week on a Washington Post reporter for the purported offense of knocking on the door of his house.
In an effort to get Kroll to respond to the charges that were filed this week against all four Minneapolis police officers involved in George Floyd's death, the Post sent one of its reporter to Krolls house after multiple other requests for comment went unanswered.
"A Washington Post reporter who knocked on Kroll’s door was soon pulled over by a police officer who said that Kroll had reported suspicious activity on his front porch and that 'he doesn’t want any press,'" the paper reports.