Pluto the Movie

Pluto and Charon from New Horizons. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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.

Visit the New Horizons site for the original images.

One Year to Go

Only a year before we arrive at Pluto.

Only? Don’t worry there is so much going on in space science the time will pass quickly I think. Next up Rosetta and if you have not seen the new animation of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko do check it out. Weird shape, kind of like a boot, we will see a clear image shortly. Is it one chunk or two stuck together?


New Horizons Update

We have an update from the New Horizons mission, more of a time line of what will be happening. Not many updates come our way and for good reason (I am not in any way complaining mind you), we are in a waiting phase. Consider the spacecraft is moving at almost 1 million miles a day and LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) will only see Pluto and the largest of the five known moons, Charron, as mere “fat” pixels a whole year from now and the spacecraft has been traveling nearly eight years already.

By the time of close approach in July 2015, LORRI would be able to see buildings if it was looking at Earth at the same distance.  That’s the plan right now.

The video below is from Science@NASA and is followed by the press release. You can see the video at the YouTube site for Science@NASA.

One of the fastest spacecraft ever built — NASA’s New Horizons — is hurtling through the void at nearly one million miles per day. Launched in 2006, it has been in flight longer than some missions last, and it is nearing its destination: Pluto.

“The encounter begins next January,” says Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute and the mission’s principal investigator. “We’re less than a year away.”
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The Pluto Family

The Pluto family as seen by Hubble. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)

The Pluto family as seen by Hubble. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)

The “not a planet” Pluto is quite a place. It even has five moons. The smallest moons formerly named P4 and P5 have been named according to IAU standards.

So let’s welcome Kerberos and Styx, new names for P4 and P5 respectivly.

Kerberos was the three-headed dog of Greek mythology. You could be more familiar with the name Cerberus (I was), either way it is still the hellhound that gaurds the gate of the Underworld.

Styx is the river that formed the boundry between Earth and the Underworld. If one swam the river Styx then good old Keberos prevented them from leaving.

Styx is also a band that can be found on my iPod. Helps me through that 6.5 km run which is part one of the three-part cardio routine I do three times a week. But I digress.

So as you can see in the image the family of Pluto is:

  • Pluto
  • charon
  • Hydra
  • Nix
  • Kerberos
  • Styx

Will there be more moons? Could be, we’ll all find out in 2014  or 15 as New Horizons nears the sytem.

You can see more versions of the Hubble images at Hubblesite.

New Horizons Update

New Horizons sees Pluto and Charon. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

New Horizons sees Pluto and Charon. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

This pair of unassuming white dots is Pluto and the moon Charon. The image was taken from 550 million miles which is further than we are from Jupiter. Believe it or not, New Horizons was launched in 2006 (19 Jan) and still has nearly two years to go before closest approach. That’s far!

At first glance this might not seem like much but in reality this is a very impressive image. Pluto and Charon are seem clearly seperated for the first time by the New Horizons LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and then when you consider Charon only being the size of Texas, well need I say more?

The images were taken earlier this month on July 1 and July 3 with an exposure of 0.1 seconds. I consider that a feat unto itself, although I don’t know how many times they tried before they got the exposure correct. Yeah plaentary photography is very difficult here on the ground, I can hardly imagine, but hey that’s what these people do and they are very-very good at it.

So, to read more about this visit the New Horizons webpage.