History is being made today as the NASA spacecraft 'New Horizons' hurtles past the dwarf planet Pluto, some 4.8 billion kilometers from earth. Here are ten things you should know as you watch the news roll in.
1. At the time of writing New Horizons is about 2.4 lakh kilometers from Pluto, speeding towards it at an incredible speed of nearly 50,000 kms per hour.
2. New Horizons is targeting a tiny region of space 12,500 kms from Pluto. This 'window' is just 100 km by 150 km in size. It will whizz through this window, turning all its seven scientific instruments towards the mysterious Pluto, giving us the first ever close-up details of its surface features. New Horizons will also send pictures of some of the Pluto's six moons.
3. The exact time when New Horizons is closest to Pluto has been estimated at 7:49 AM today (14 July) in Maryland USA, where the command center is located. This translates to about 5:19 pm in the evening today (14 July) here in India.
4. At about 8:45 Indian time today morning the latest picture from the approaching New Horizons was received by the scientific team on Earth. It is a full frame black and white picture taken by the LORRI camera aboard the spacecraft. It will need to be processed and will likely be released today evening.
5. NASA and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (which is handling the mission) say that there is a one in 10,000 chance only that some flying piece of debris hits New Horizons. At the speed at which it is going, even a tiny piece of rock can completely destroy the 478 kilogram spacecraft.
6. But we on Earth won't know for sure whether New Horizons was successful in its flyby until much later. About an hour after the closest flyby, at about 8:53 PM in USA today (14 July), that is about 6:25 AM tomorrow (15 July), the team will receive a signal saying the mission has been successful.
7. Tomorrow (15 July) evening, India time, at about four o'clock, a full image of Charon, Pluto's moon would be downloaded. Later around midnight tomorrow (15-16 July) the first high resolution image of Pluto will finally be released.
8. Here are some tips if you want to get the breaking news on New Horizons's tryst with Pluto straight from NASA or JHUAPL. You can follow @NASANewHorizons on Twitter. Or you can follow any of the following key people: Alan Stern, New Horizon's principal investigator, Mike Brown (@plutokiller), Kimberley Ennico Smith (@kennicosmith), John Grunsfeld (@SciAstro), NASA's science lead.
9. Today evening, NASA TV will have a special one and a half hour slot to coincide with New Horizons' flyby starting at about 5 PM Indian time. You can check it out at the NASA site. Mind you, the actual closest flyby images from Pluto will not be released in this coverage. The images will be from earlier.
10. The final word on mission success will be available tomorrow (15 July) at about 7 AM Indian time through a scheduled media briefing.
So prepare for some fascinating stuff for the next couple of days.
Courtesy-The Times Of India