Category Archives: New Horizons

Good News from New Horizons


From NASA:
The investigation into the anomaly that caused New Horizons to enter “safe mode” on July 4 has concluded that no hardware or software fault occurred on the spacecraft. The underlying cause of the incident was a hard-to-detect timing flaw in the spacecraft command sequence that occurred during an operation to prepare for the close flyby. No similar operations are planned for the remainder of the Pluto encounter.

“I’m pleased that our mission team quickly identified the problem and assured the health of the spacecraft,” said Jim Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science. “Now – with Pluto in our sights – we’re on the verge of returning to normal operations and going for the gold.”

Preparations are ongoing to resume the originally planned science operations on July 7 and to conduct the entire close flyby sequence as planned. The mission science team and principal investigator have concluded that the science observations lost during the anomaly recovery do not affect any primary objectives of the mission, with a minimal effect on lesser objectives. “In terms of science, it won’t change an A-plus even into an A,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder.

By the way, a rather serious family emergency has come up and I may have my ups and downs over the next bit of time.  That and the fact I am getting ready to move has my world a wee bit messy.



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New Horizons Has a Problem

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory lost contact with the New Horizons spacecraft for a little less than two hours yesterday. The bump in the road to Pluto came at 17:54 UTC yesterday.

The internal systems onboard the New Horizons spacecraft responded to the problem putting the spacecraft into “safe mode” and reiniitiated comminications with backup computer. Communications was restored at 19:15 UTC.

A New Horizons Anomaly Review Board was convened at 20:00 UTC to gather information on the problem and initiate a recovery plan based on telemtry received about the problem.

The review is ongoing, with less than 10 days to go before arriving at Pluto and the nine-hour round trip time for commmunications the Review Board is being very thoughtful about the response.

The image below from the LORRI camera on the New Horizons was taken 03 July 2015 from a distance of 21.7 million km / 13.5 million miles.


Image: The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / NASA

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Pluto in Color


From New Horizons:

Pluto shows two remarkably different sides in these color images of the planet and its largest moon Charon taken by New Horizons on June 25 and June 27. The images were made from black-and-white images combined with lower-resolution color data. The left image shows the side of Pluto that will be seen at highest resolution when New Horizons makes its close approach on July 14. The hemisphere is dominated by a very dark region that extends along the equator. The right image is of the side that faces Charon; the most dramatic feature on this side of Pluto is a row of dark spots arranged along the equator. (The equator appears near the bottom of the images, as only about half of the planet is shown.)

Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute


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Pluto Update


Only 11 days away from the Pluto encounter by the New Horizon’s spacecraft.

The image above was taken by 01 July 2015 by the LORRI images from a distance of 15.9 million km. Details are starting to show up and are only going to improve even on the moon Charon.  See that bright circular feature right in the center of Pluto? It could be a lot of things, I’m thinking possibly a large crater.

There are a couple of updates too. The mission control team have things pretty well locked down. On 28 June 2015 the commands were issued to fire the spacecraft thrusters. Keep in mind the spacecraft is moving at 52,303 kmh / 32,500 mph. The thrusters were fired for just 23 seconds and that incresed the velocity of New Horizons by just 27 centimeters per second (that’s only 0.972 kmh / 0.604 mph). What difference could that possibly make? It will keep New Horizons from arriving 20 seconds late and 114 miles (184 kilometers) off-target from the spot where it will measure the properties of Pluto’s atmosphere.

It does not sound like any further course corrections will be necessary for this historic encounter.

Next, back in 1976 Earth based observations showed methane on Pluto. New Horizons has now detected methane on Pluto. Pluto could have originated out of the solar nebula which formed the solar system 4.5 billion years ago.

One of the big questions is: Is the methane evenly distributed on Pluto? With any luck we shall soon find out.

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Dark Pole on Charon


In the latest images from the LORRI imager aboard the New Horizons spacecraft we can now see that Pluto’s moon Charon has a dark pole. Why a dark pole? It’s another mystery.

“This system is just amazing,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator, from the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “The science team is just ecstatic with what we see on Pluto’s close approach hemisphere: Every terrain type we see on the planet—including both the brightest and darkest surface areas —are represented there, it’s a wonderland!

“And about Charon—wow—I don’t think anyone expected Charon to reveal a mystery like dark terrains at its pole,” he continued. “Who ordered that?”
That’s not all, Pluto’s terrain is more variable than anyone could have guessed.

Check out the update at NASA they have a short video and montages of Pluto.

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Countdown to Pluto – Update

Here’s the 16 June 2015 edition.

The flyby of 14 July is less than a month out.

Topics include a mission and science overviews, a look at the spacecraft and its seven science instruments, and what we know about Pluto to date.

The part talking about sending commands to where the spacecraft is “going” to be after signal travel time is pretty amazing.


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New Horizons and Pluto

Here’s the latest release from the New Horizons team and as the spacecraft closes in on Pluto we are getting tantalizing hints about the surface.


Click the image for a larger version. The moon Charon can be seen to the right and even there we can see light and dark areas.

There is an animated gif you can download too. The variation in the surface patches is very evident. The gif is only about 700 k or so, have a look. The moon Charon starts at the 3 OcClock position and orbits once. You will see the moon jump in towards Pluto at the transition between the start and stop of the animation. The jump is due to the range difference in the range to the pair between the start and end of the loop.

Loop start: 28 May distance to Pluto – 56,072,732 km
Loop end: 03 June distance to Pluto – 48,500,980 km

One other thing about the animation, in the “zoomed” version playing in the lower right it appears Pluto is somewhat irregular in shape. This is processing induced artifact, Pluto is nearly perfectly spherical. Processing can induce other artifacts into the image which will resolve over time as we get closer.

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Pluto’s Moons

Hubble observations show that Pluto’s moons behave oddly. The small moons tumble chaotically in their orbits instead of the nice smooth path like we are used to seeing. Glad I waited for the video to explain it the #hubblehangout featured among the group is one of my favorites – Mark Showalter.

Yes it’s a little long but you will get most of it in the first half and the whole thing is very good.

More from Hubblesite.


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