We now have our first look at the Pluto moon Hydra and Nix from New Horizons.
The two moon were only discovered in 2005 thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope and now we are getting a look at them from an inbound spacecraft.
Both moons are around 40 to 150 km (25 to 95 miles) in diameter.
Hydra is the outer moon and orbits Pluto every 38 days from a distance of 64,700 km / 40,200 miles.
Nix, the inner moon orbits every 25 days from 48,700 km / 30,260 miles.
Consider all of those numbers “rough” for now. It won’t be long and we will have accurate data!
The LORRI camera took these image from distances ranging from 201 million to 186 million km (125 million to 113 million miles) away and even in the feeble sunlight they are almost hidden in the glare of Pluto.
There are two more moons yet to be seen, they are smaller than Hydra and Nix. Their names are Styx and Kerberos, we will indeed see them in time.
I have little doubt these little moons are going to every bit as interesting as Pluto.
The images here are a sample of seven frames taken and put into an animation you can see along with much more detail at the New Horizons site.
A new release from the New Horizons spacecraft shows Pluto and the moon Charon in their dance. The animation is made from images taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager also known as LORRI over the course of a week.
The pair were observed for a complete rotation of each body, which is 6.4 Earth-days. The distance to Pluto and Charon changed from 126 million miles at the beginning to 121 million miles at the end. Like the exciting ESA Rosetta mission around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and NASA’s Dawn mission now approaching Ceres, the views will be improving dramatically in the near future.
Pluto can be seen wobbling as Charon orbits, this is not an artifact. Charon is about one-eigth the mass of Pluto and is only 18,000 km / 11,200 miles away so they orbit around a common center of gravity and each body tugging on the other. The result is the wobble. This type of wobble is what some of the Exo-planet hunters look for too. The difference they are watching for a entire stars to wobble as a planet tugs on it and that wobble is exceedingly tiny – amazing really.
“Pluto is finally becoming more than just a pinpoint of light,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. “LORRI has now resolved Pluto, and the dwarf planet will continue to grow larger and larger in the images as New Horizons spacecraft hurtles toward its targets. The new LORRI images also demonstrate that the camera’s performance is unchanged since it was launched more than nine years ago.”
There are new images from a 25 and 27 January and they were put into a animation showing both Pluto and Charon. The site has another video about Clyde Tombaugh and a great update to the mission – be certain to check it out.
Here is an image from the New Horizon’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) as it was passing by the Jupiter system on 02 March 2007.
The image shown is actually a merger of two images one from LORRI which is a high resolution black-and-white image and a lower resolution color image from teh MVIC or Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera. The result is amazing as you can see.
The image shows the Jupiter moons Io and Europa. Io shows the 300 km / 190 mile high volcanic plume from the Tvashtar volcano. There are two other plumes one from the volcano Prometheus (look at the edge at the 9 o’clock position) and Amirana located between the Prometheus and Tvashtar.
Looks can be deceiving too. while Europa appears more distant, it is 790,000 km / 490,000 miles closer then Io. From the image caption:
This image was taken from a range of 4.6 million kilometers (2.8 million miles) from Io and 3.8 million kilometers (2.4 million miles) from Europa.
The bright crescents are from sunshine as you might expect and the nighttime side of Io is lit by reflected light from Jupiter.
For more details about the image have a look at CICLOPS, the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations
A replay of “Waking Up On Pluto’s Doorstep: New Horizons Comes Out of Hibernation” by The Planetary Society.
The Planetary Society show was held while waiting for the signal from New Horizons saying it had awakened and is powering up onboard systems. In the meantime (before and after) there is a great discussion of the Deep Space Network and tweeted questions including one I had myself: What about unknown objects the spacecraft may encounter? Pluto has five moons (distance ordered): Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra, there could be many objects we can not detect.
A brief discussion about what happens after the Pluto encounter is over, hint: it’s not over for New Horizons.
New Horizons powers systems up and comes out of hibernation for the home stretch of its journey. Wake up is scheduled for 15:00 EST / 20:00 UTC today (06 Dec 2014). If power up is successful New Horizons will transmit a radio signal back to Earth. It will take 4.5 hours for the radio signal to reach us.
A nice animation of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon in orbit around Pluto. The animation was made in July 2014 from 12 images taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. At the time of the photos New Horizons was closing in quickly on Pluto. The distance to the Plutonian system ranged from 429 million to 422 million km (or 267 million to 262 million miles) in the time it took to take the images. Shortly after this set of images was taken New Horizons went back into a hibernation mode, the last one.
On Saturday (06 Dec 2014) at 15:00 EST / 20:00 UTC, the instruments on the New Horizons spacecraft will be switched on as the craft comes out of hibernation and gets ready to do some serious science!
The first thing on the agenda is, as you might guess, telling mission control it is alive and well and in “active” mode. The transmission from New Horizons is scheduled to occur 90 minutes after the spacecraft wakes up, so that will be at 16:30 EST / 21:30 UTC. When will we hear the good news signal? Not until 4 hours and 25 minutes later, it takes that long for radio signals to travel the 4.7 billion km / 2.9 billion miles from New Horizons at the speed of light!
A long way from home and closing in on the prize. The spacecraft will be just 162 million miles from Pluto when it wakes up.
A look at Neptune and one of its moons Triton from New Horizons spacecraft on 10 July 2014. When the image was taken, New Horizons had not crossed the orbit of Neptune. At the orbit crossing New Horizons was actually closer to Pluto than Neptune.
Coming up very soon, on 06 December 2015 New Horizons will exit sleep mode for the last time. The spacecraft has periodically gone in and out of sleep mode so there shouldn’t be any surprises. From then on the spacecraft will be fully awake and very shortly after will start taking science data. We should get some tantalizing views of the Plutonian system from the same camera that took the one above: New Horizons telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).
Shortly after crossing the Neptune orbit New Horizons mission controllers at Johns Hopkins University put the New Horizons spacecraft down for a nap. This period of hibernation will be the last in the mission.
Mission managers verified a sucessful entry into hibernation at 13:21 UT 29 August. This part of the mission comes after a 10-week check of the spacecraft systems “The checkout went very well,” says Chris Hersman, New Horizons mission systems engineer from APL. “The spacecraft is healthy and in great shape to begin Pluto encounter activities in early 2015.”
The spacecraft was more than 4,425,696,000 km (4.426 billion) or 2,750,000,000 miles (2.75 billion) from Earth when the commands were sent. It takes over four hours for commands to reach the spacecraft, thankfully the Deep Space Network was up to the task.
One of the commands during the hibernation sequence is to point the New Horizons main antenna where Earth will be the next time the spacecraft wakes up so data about the condition of the spacecraft will be immediatly available.
The scheduled wake up date is 07 December 2014 and “Distant-encounter” operations at Pluto to begin 04 January 2015.
The New Horizons spacecraft captured this “movie” consisting of 12 images showing Pluto and the moon Charon. Those 12 images, taken between 19 and 24 July so almost one full orbit of Pluto and Charon, from 429 million to 422 million km / 267 million to 262 million miles using the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). This set of images was taken with the New Horizons spacecraft 10 times closer to Pluto than we are here on Earth.
Notice the wobble? Pluto and Charon are binary, really a binary planet system and they orbit each other around the center of mass (called the barycenter) which is between the two. The LORRI is set to the barycenter.
Charon is orbiting about 18,000 km / 11,200 miles from Pluto.
New Horizons will cross the Neptune orbit in just over a week and will fly by the Pluto system in less than a year with approach operations to begin in just a few months.