NASA reported that by mid-May we should get the first close-ups of the icy Pluto and its five moons: Styx, Nix, Charon, Hydra and Kerberos, as New Horizons spacecraft is getting increasingly closer to the planet.
The only images of Pluto are some low resolution images taken by Hubble space telescope in 2006. The images were released in 2010 after four years of continuous work of 20 computers operating to produce the photos.
Alan Stern, researcher of the New Horizons mission, said in an interview that the pictures were what all his team’s members were waiting for.
“I think of Pluto as a kind of a Christmas present that’s been sitting under the tree” waiting to be unwrapped. I just can’t wait to see what’s there,”
he also stated.
After taking a look at Hubble’s images, NASA reported that Pluto was an “icy and dark molasses-colored, mottled world that was undergoing seasonal changes in its surface color and brightness.”
Hubble confirmed what space experts had been saying for years – that Pluto is a dynamic planet undergoing dramatic atmospheric changes, rather than a still icy world.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft would take the close-up images of Pluto through its Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) telescope. New Horizons is scheduled to reach Pluto on July 14, but more detailed photos will be taken when the spacecraft gets within a closer range of Pluto.
Mr. Stern reported that NASA expects more accurate “optical navigation images” any day now. New Horizons’s LORRI telescope has already taken a series of low-res optical navigation images on July 2014. NASA was able to combine the images and obtain an animated graphic depicting one full rotation of Charon around Pluto.
New Horizons spacecraft was launched on January 2006 and was scheduled to get to Pluto on July 14, 2015.
“New Horizons is on a journey to a new class of planets we’ve never seen, in a place we’ve never been before. For decades, we thought Pluto was this odd little body on the planetary outskirts; now we know it’s really a gateway to an entire region of new worlds in the Kuiper Belt, and New Horizons is going to provide the first close-up look at them,”
Hal Weaver, a New Horizons Project’s scientist, said shortly after the launch.
Meanwhile, LORRI telescope has already started taking long-range photo shots of the planet on January 25. Those images will provide NASA scientists with minimal knowledge on Pluto’s moons and vital data required by the spacecraft to travel the remaining 135 million miles/ 220 million km to Pluto.
Additionally, LORRI is scheduled to take hundreds of long-range photos of the remote planet over the next few months, although Pluto and its moons would only appear in the telescope’s view as bright dots until May.
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