Anxious excitement is building up as New Horizons has only 20 million miles more to reach Pluto within one month from Tuesday.
As NASA’s lightweight spacecraft is nearing its most awaited destination, excitement builds up to see the Kuiper Belt, Pluto and its five moons up-close and write a new history page.
With no problems encountered so far, New Horizons is only one month away from its descent into Pluto’s orbit at a distance of 7,750 miles from the dwarf planet. 20 million miles and 30 days away lies the current highpoint of the nine-year long mission of New Horizons.
Surely, the historical moment will bring the first close-ups of the icy surface on the dwarf planet, captured at an increasingly sharper clarity.
Alan Stern, based at the Southwest Research Institute from Boulder, Colorado joyously commented on the high-spirits of the team overseeing New Horizon’s flight:
“This is one charged-up team. They know that they’re getting to do something very special because nothing like this has happened”.
At least not since 1989, when NASA’s Voyager 2 flew by Neptune. Previously, Mariner 2, also NASA spacecraft flew by Venus in 1962.
The captures of the icy world of Pluto have already got the scientific community and astronomy aficionados on their toes. Increasingly sharp images started coming in, revealing vast dark areas on the surface of Pluto, mixed with mysterious bright spots and icy patches.
The culminating point happened only last week when NASA released the four images beamed back by New Horizons and depicting four different surface features captured as Pluto rotated.
Building up to July 14, this week will see the capture of new infrared imagery of both Pluto and Charon, the largest of the five moons orbiting the dwarf planet. Color images will also be coming in soon to reveal the full rotation phases of Pluto.
Weekly updates are released by NASA during each Tuesday, to keep the public up to speed with New Horizon’s newest accomplishments. During the last week before the spacecraft reaches Pluto’s orbit, we will see daily updates on the mission.
This is a historical moment and the scientific team behind the New Horizon mission is aware that textbooks will be written on Pluto’s system and the Kuiper Belt thanks to their relentless effort.
Image Source: NASA