Over the weekend, an unmanned NASA spacecraft was on its way to a momentous encounter with Pluto. The categories include historical space missions, spacecraft, scientists and explorers, as well as beings, locations and characters from myths pertaining to the underworld – a throwback to Pluto, the Roman god of hell.
“The New Horizons team immediately went into action”, said Jim Green, director of Planetary Science at NASA, during a press conference Monday. It was designed and built by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, which also is managing the $700 million mission for NASA.
Principal scientist Alan Stern said it was more important to recover the spacecraft than worry about some lost observations of a Pluto still several million miles away.
The New Horizons team received the new photo early Wednesday morning. “You can see Central Park and count the ponds in Central Park”.
The images that were taken for the map that was released were taken between June 27 and July 3. New Horizons has been traveling towards Pluto for nine years, and the historic flyby, July 14, is in sight.
The spacecraft was launched on January 19, 2006, before the big debate started over Pluto’s status as a planet.
Just a few months later, however, in August, Pluto was relegated to the status of “dwarf planet” by the global Astronomical Union.
But Stern disagrees with the IAU’s decision. To keep on top of developments, check in with the New Horizons websites at NASA and APL.
The planets closest to our sun – Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars – are rocky. The same phenomenon has also been observed on Saturn’s moon Titan and Neptune’s moon Triton. “When we get a clear look at the surface of Pluto for the very first time, I promise, it will knock your socks off”. Pluto is much smaller than the scale you’re seeing here and it is not entirely spherical. In 1978 a moon was discovered, and named Charon, a suitable attendant for the god of the underworld.
When the New Horizons mission was approved in 2001, it was to be a probe to the only unexplored planet in the solar system.
“The next time we see this part of Pluto at closest approach, a portion of this region will be imaged at about 500 times better resolution than we see today”, Jeff Moore, New Horizons’ geology, geophysics and imaging team leader, said in a statement.