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December 8-14, 2014 / Vol 33, No 49 / Hawai`i Island, USA

5 Dec 2014, 21:16 UTC
December 8-14, 2014 / Vol 33, No 49 / Hawai`i Island, USA
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New Horizons Ready for Historic Pluto / Kuiper Belt Encounters

New Horizons spacecraft, nearly 4.8B kilometers from Earth, is preparing for its 6-month encounter with Pluto and moon Charon starting Jan 15, 2015 with distant-encounter operations. About 260M kilometers from Pluto traveling at 52,685 kph, the spacecraft will continue to collect navigation-tracking data, download and analyze the cruise science data, and undergo final tests of science instruments and operating systems. The communications it sends to Earth will take 4 hrs 25 mins to be received. Its long-awaited, unprecedented flyby of Pluto and Charon is set for July 14, 2015 (11:49:59 UTC), about 9.5 years after launch Jan 19, 2006. New Horizons will image Pluto and Charon, map surface composition, collect data on atmosphere and temperature, look closely at moons Kerberos and Styx, and search for more moons and rings around Pluto. The US$700M mission plans an encounter with at least one not-yet selected Trans-Neptunian object in the unexplored Kuiper belt. New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern states “No voyage like this has been conducted since the epic days of Voyager, and nothing like it is planned again.” It is expected to be the 5th spacecraft to leave the Solar System. ...

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