New Horizons is less than 11 million miles away from Pluto.
Soon, we will know if there are differences in the presence of methane ice from one part of Pluto to another, he added in a statement.
Methane is colorless and odorless, and is commonly found on Earth in the atmosphere, as well as underground.
New Horizons is now less than 9.5 million miles from the Pluto system.
Consequently, with the New Horizons spacecraft nearing Pluto, the astronomical community hasn’t been as excited as this since August 1989, when we enthusiastically waited for the Voyager 2 spacecraft to give us our first detailed view of Neptune. But this is about to change as NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to fly by the dwarf planet on its way to the Kuiper Belt on July 14, as per CBS News. For the last seven weeks, the New Horizons hazard analysis team has used the spacecraft’s telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera to scan for dangers in the probe’s path, including additional tiny moons, rings, or dust.
The technology exists for a spacecraft to travel to a distant planet like Pluto, land, take samples, and return to Earth using a nuclear reactor power engine. As it rotates, Pluto displays a strongly contrasting surface dominated by a bright northern hemisphere, with a discontinuous band of darker material running along the equator.
Charon’s dark polar region is even more pronounced than in earlier images. It hasn’t found any, the team announced yesterday, so New Horizons can proceed as planned.
In fact, timing and accuracy are critical for all New Horizons flyby observations, since those commands are stored in the spacecraft’s computers and programmed to “execute” at exact times. Well, excitement is now escalating as the probe is making its closest approach to the dwarf planet on July 16.
“One of my fondest hopes for the flyby, apart from the great science we’ll do, is that people across the world will join in to experience the thrill of science and exploration through New Horizons“, said Alan Stern, New Horizons mission principal investigator.
However, there should be ample opportunity to study them in the days leading up to the encounter.
New Horizons blasted into space atop an Atlas V rocket in January 2006.
The pictures accurately depict what you might see if you were riding on the New Horizons spacecraft yourself, according to a NASA news release.