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Full ahead to Pluto..!


Look at that… wow… The long wait is almost over. With just a few days left to go ( how many, exactly? Well,  there’s a really useful online countdown clock here… ) until the New Horizons probe screams through the Pluto system, the world seems to be going Pluto crazy! But that shouldn’t be surprising: the images coming back from the probe now are are waaay better than any taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and you can see from the latest image, above, that New Horizons can confirm what Hubble hinted at – that Pluto is a fascinating world, with bright areas and dark.

Many people are commenting how similar Pluto looks, from New Horizon’s present distance and at this limited resolution, to what Mars looks like through a small telescope…


…which is all very well and good, but we want to know what Pluto is REALLY like, don’t we? Let’s look at that image again, this time tweaked a bit, just for fun…

7-8-15_pluto_color_new_nasa-jhuapl-swri c

We want to know what craters, landforms and features – if any – are hiding in those simple light and dark areas, just waiting for New Horizons’ cameras to pick them out. It won’t be long until we see them, I think. Every day’s images are a little clearer than the last, and soon we’ll be seeing Pluto in much sharper detail.

In the meantime, let’s look ahead to what will be happening next week as New Horizons approaches and passes Pluto. Obviously there will be pictures everywhere – including here – but what will you be able to see *live* online? Is there going to be anything you can watch at the time?

Thankfully the answer is yes – NASA TV will be broadcasting New Horizons updates and press conferences regularly from the start of next week. Here’s the schedule, with times converted from ET to British Summer Time for you (if you’re in the UK…)


July 8 – 10
4.30pm – Final approach to Pluto; daily mission updates on NASA TV

July 11 – 12
4.30pm – Final approach to Pluto; live mission updates on NASA TV

Monday, July 13
4pm – 5pm – Media briefing: Mission Status and What to Expect; live on NASA TV
Tuesday, July 14
12.30 – 1pm – Arrival at Pluto Countdown Program; live on NASA TV

At approximately 12.49pm, 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.

1pm – 2pm– Media briefing, image release; live on NASA TV


Wednesday July 15th

01.30 – 02.15am – 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 02.02am. ( 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.

02.30 – 03.00am – Media Briefing: New Horizons Health and Mission Status; live on NASA TV

8 – 9pm 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.


I’ve taken next Tuesday and Wednesday off work so I don’t have to miss a moment of The Big Day. So I’ll be sat here with my laptop on my knee, and probably the cat on my shoulder or chest, getting in the way. watching all the updates and media events as they happen, savouring every moment of this incredible adventure.

Finally for this time, if you have a smartphone, or a tablet, and you’re following the New Horizons mission, I can hugely recommend the “Pluto Safari” app…