Yes, you guessed correctly; even the most powerful telescopes in the world, including Hubble, don’t do a lot better, because Pluto is smaller than our moon, and a long, long way away. The New Horizons spacecraft will shriek past Pluto at 14km/s, passing roughly 7,750 miles from Pluto’s surface, gathering spectacular images and data of the Dwarf planet by its LORRI camera.
New Horizons recently performed its final planned maneuver to position itself for ideal timing and location for its flyby of Pluto, which is scheduled to take place July 14. NASA noted that the spots are evenly spaced and most appear to have a rough diameter of 480 kilometers (300 miles).
Pluto and its largest moon Charon are being seen like never before as the New Horizons spacecraft closes in on the system. But it can’t. The piano-sized apparatus, chock-full of intricate measurement devices, is set to arrive at Pluto’s micro-system on July 14, where it will look at the sunlit atmosphere of the planetoid to see what its composition is. The image on the right shows the spots.
The new pictures, which combined black-and-white images of Pluto and Charon, shows Pluto has two remarkably different faces.
Tyler, Linscott and a team of Stanford scientists and graduate students spent years developing REX and its operating software before New Horizons launched in 2006. It was said that the spacecraft plans to adjust its speed very slightly that moved its expected arrival time on the planet.
As Charon circles Pluto in the gif, the moon’s dark pole starts to revolve and Pluto’s odd dark and light patches become more clear. Astronomers have known about the spectroscopic signature of methane on Pluto since 1976, but the mission will study the distribution of this molecule around the dwarf planet to see how it varies.
New Horizons’ Mission Operations Center is based at Johns Hopkins University.
New Horizons blasted into space atop an Atlas V rocket in January 2006. Because of its configuration, New Horizons can not observe Pluto and simultaneously transmit data to Earth.
In fact, one might say they definitely don’t have too much time on their hands …
NASA will soon be uploading the commands for the flyby, since communication between the probe and Earth takes about 4.5 hours (with there being almost 3 billion miles in between).