New Horizons survives Pluto flyby

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  • Published: Jul 15, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Infrared Spectroscopy / UV/Vis Spectroscopy
thumbnail image: New Horizons survives Pluto flyby

After zipping past Pluto at 14 km per second, the New Horizons spacecraft has phoned home, making contact with NASA to confirm that it survived the flypast in tact. The spacecraft was switched off during the manoeuvre and the new signal, which took 4 hours and 25 minutes to reach Earth, released the tension in the control centre.

During its approach and flypast, New Horizons was surveying the dwarf planet with its array of onboard instruments. They include Ralph, a visible and infrared imager and spectrometer that provides colour, composition and thermal maps, and Alice, an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer for analysing the composition and structure of the atmosphere.

The first data sent back to Earth will be close-up high-resolution images of Pluto’s surface followed by more spectral information. But such is the amount of data and the slow transfer rate that it could take as long as 16 months for it all to be transmitted.

"The best is yet to come," said NASA spokesman John Grunsfeld. "You haven’t seen anything yet. There are many more months of data to be sent back. This is like the Curiosity landing. This is just the beginning for fundamental discoveries. It’s a tremendous moment in human history."

This mission completes the full house with every planet (and dwarf planet) in the solar system now visited from Earth. Now, the spacecraft will perform some agile manoeuvres to target the five moons of Pluto (Charon, Hydra, Nix, Styx and Kerberos) before traversing the Kuiper Belt, a disc-shaped region of icy objects, gathering data all the while.

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