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07/14/2014 – Ephemeris – New Horizons to Pluto: 1 year and counting!

July 14, 2014 Comments off

Ephemeris for Monday, July 14th.  Today the sun will be up for 15 hours and 14 minutes, setting at 9:25.   The moon, 2 days past full, will rise at 10:45 this evening.  Tomorrow the sun will rise at 6:11.

Exactly one year from today the New Horizons spacecraft will fly by the dwarf planet Pluto.  It will be taking photographs of Pluto and its moons, sniffing out Pluto and its large moon Charon.  During most of the close flyby the spacecraft will be too busy to talk to Earth.  When past Pluto the spacecraft will be able over the next few months to down-link to us all its information.  At that great distance it must send data back to us with a transmission speed will make the old 300 baud modems of three decades ago seem fast.  Recently the Hubble Space Telescope has been pressed into service to spot new targets beyond Pluto for New Horizons.  It quickly found two, and is looking for more.

Times are for the Traverse City/Interlochen area of Michigan.  They may be different for your location.

Addendum

Pluto and its moons

Pluto and its moons as photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Pluto and Charon were filtered to reduce their brightness to bring out the other dim moons. Credit: NASA/Hubble.

Pluto Aim Point

New Horizon’s aim point in relation to the moons. This was created before P4 and P5 received names. P4 became Styx, and P5 became Kerberos. Credit: NASA/GSFC.

When more and more moons were discovered around Pluto serious consideration was given to steer clear of the moon orbits.  It is quite possible that there is much debris orbiting Pluto where all these satellites are.  They all orbit Pluto in the same plane, along with Charon, above Pluto’s equator.  It is thought that any material streaming toward Pluto would be intercepted by Charon, so the space between Charon and Pluto might be clear of debris, so New Horizons can punch through in safety.  New Horizons is going like a bat out of heck and has no brakes.  New Horizon’s velocity with respect to Pluto at closest approach will be 49,600 kilometers per hour or 30,800 mph according to the New Horizons article on Wikipedia (no citation given).  The path of the spacecraft can be altered is a moon or other hazard is detected.

New Horizons

Artist conception of the New Horizons spacecraft at Pluto. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.

New Horizon’s web page:  http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/

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