A “Heart” From Pluto As New Horizons Flyby Begins

This image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 8, and has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI

This image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 8, and has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI

July 8, 2015 – After more than nine-years and three-billion-miles to Pluto, it’s show time for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, as the flyby sequence of science observations is officially underway.

In the early morning hours of July 8, mission scientists received this new view of Pluto — the most detailed yet returned by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard New Horizons. The image was taken on July 7, when the spacecraft was just under 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) from Pluto, and is the first to be received since the July 4 anomaly that sent the spacecraft into safe mode.

This view is centered roughly on the area that will be seen close-up during New Horizons’ July 14 closest approach. This side of Pluto is dominated by three broad regions of varying brightness. Most prominent are an elongated dark feature at the equator, informally known as “the whale,” and a large heart-shaped bright area measuring some 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) across on the right. Above those features is a polar region that is intermediate in brightness.

“The next time we see this part of Pluto at closest approach, a portion of this region will be imaged at about 500 times better resolution than we see today,” said Jeff Moore, Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team Leader of NASA’s Ames Research Center. “It will be incredible!”

NASA will provide flyby coverage on NASA Television, the agency’s website and its social media accounts as the spacecraft closes in on Pluto in the coming days. The schedule for event coverage is subject to change, with daily updates posted online.

Highlights of the current coverage schedule, all in Eastern time, include:

July 8 – 10
11:30 a.m. – Final approach to Pluto; daily mission updates on NASA TV

July 11 – 12
11:30 a.m. – Final approach to Pluto; live mission updates on NASA TV

Monday, July 13
11 a.m. to noon – Media briefing: Mission Status and What to Expect; live on NASA TV

Tuesday, July 14
7:30 to 8 a.m. – Arrival at Pluto Countdown Program; live on NASA TV

At approximately 7:49 a.m., New Horizons is scheduled to be as close as the spacecraft will get to Pluto, approximately 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) above the surface, after a journey of more than nine years and three billion miles. For much of the day, New Horizons will be out of communication with mission control as it gathers data about Pluto and its moons.

The moment of closest approach will be marked during the live NASA TV broadcast that includes a countdown and discussion of what’s expected next as New Horizons makes its way past Pluto and potentially dangerous debris.

8 to 9 a.m. – Media briefing, image release; live on NASA TV

8:30 to 9:15 p.m. – NASA TV program, Phone Home, broadcast from APL Mission Control

NASA TV will share the suspenseful moments of this historic event with the public and museums around the world. The New Horizons spacecraft will send a preprogrammed signal after the closest approach. The mission team on Earth should receive the signal by about 9:02 p.m. When New Horizons “phones home,” there will be a celebration of its successful flyby and the anticipation of data to come in the days and months ahead.

9:30 to 10 p.m. – Media Briefing: New Horizons Health and Mission Status; live on NASA TV

Wednesday, July 15
3 to 4 p.m. – Media Briefing: Seeing Pluto in a New Light; live on NASA TV

Release of close-up images of Pluto’s surface and moons, along with initial science team reactions.

New Horizons is the first mission to the Kuiper Belt, a gigantic zone of icy bodies and mysterious small objects orbiting beyond Neptune. This region also is known as the “third” zone of our solar system, beyond the inner rocky planets and outer gas giants.

APL designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Southwest Research Institute leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

For NASA TV schedules, satellite coordinates, and links to streaming video, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

The public can follow the path of the spacecraft in coming days in real time with a visualization of the actual trajectory data, using NASA’s online Eyes on Pluto.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates will be available on the mission Facebook page.