New Horizons: Pluto Set For Closeup As Probe Prepares For Flyby

Pluto may not be a planet, but it’s still a cause for excitement, with the New Horizons probe set to take our closest look yet at the dwarf planet in just over a week’s time. The New Horizons’ Pluto flyby is scheduled for July 14, just 10 days away, or, as The Planetary Society reports, just two Plutonian days.

In a related report from the Inquisitr, check out the first color videos of Pluto and Charon, its moon, fresh from NASA.

So what new data can we expect to get from New Horizons? Both Charon and Pluto’s surface will be getting analyzed, Space.com reports, giving us insight into the makeup of the frigid world. The scientists will also be able to observe Pluto’s atmosphere and geology, as well as giving us a close-up view of the local system. The probe will come very close to the Plutonian surface, just 7,800 miles above the frozen ground, netting us some fantastic images of Pluto and Charon to boot.

Speaking to Quebec AM, Frederic Pellitier, who worked for NASA for 10 years, said that there’s yet another key piece of the puzzle to be learned from the probe’s observations. This piece of data? The radius distance between Pluto and the Sun, something which, from Earth, has never been recorded.

The encounter, as principal investigator Alan Stern had no problem reminding the Guardian, is a momentous occasion.

This is a moment. People should watch it. They should sit their freakin’ kids down and say, think about this technology. Think about people who worked on this for 25 years to bring this knowledge… It’s a long way to go to the outer edge, the very edge of the solar system.

Whoever updates the New Horizons’ Facebook page seemed pretty psyched about the upcoming encounter too. Rightly so, I should add.

Whoever updates New Horizons' Facebook page seems just as excited as we are.

To get an idea of Pluto’s isolation, check out the latest photos from the probe. Remind anyone else of the “Pale Blue Dot” image?

Getting this good a view has taken some doing. The probe was launched nearly 10 years ago, on January 19, 2006. Since then, it has given us views of Jupiter and its moon, Io. It’s also spent much of the journey as many of us do on long trips — asleep. Hibernation has allowed systems to remain in working order, something which, on a journey of this magnitude, is extremely important.

As the Guardian reports, that encounter with Jupiter shaved three years off the New Horizons’ Pluto voyage. Should the flyby go swimmingly, we’ll get a report from the probe 11 hours after the encounter, as the probe can’t observe Pluto and broadcast its findings back home at the same time.

Getting to this stage has taken quite the while. New Horizons launched from Cape Canaveral back in January 2006.

July 14 is set to go down in scientific history as a momentous day. The day we finally got a look at the frosty dwarf planet on the edge of the Solar System. After this, the New Horizons probe should carry on and explore the Kuiper Belt, a massive belt of debris beyond the planets. Then? Well, it’ll be time for the probe to follow Voyager 1 and 2 into the void.

Mark that date in your calendars folks, it should be a good one, with first New Horizons, then us, seeing Pluto in an entirely different way.

[Lead image by NASA via Wikimedia Commons, launch photo by Matt Stroshane/Getty Images]