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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Horizons reaches Pluto

Finally we know how Pluto looks like. Looks at this for a minute before you read further

This image of Pluto was taken on Tuesday and was downlinked just before the flyby

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft just completed 9 years journey from earth and flew past Pluto today. Pluto was discovered in 1930 but it was only visible through telescope (~magnitude 11) that to just a single point of light. It was 9th planet of solar system when this spacecraft left earth in 2006.

Even the best image of Pluto that we had  till last few month was by Hubble Space telescope. Which barely told us about the texture.


Pluto - HST - 270° Longitude
Source: Hubblesite.org

Its also worth notable that this is the fastest moving man made object ever till date, which is why it could made it to Pluto under a decade. It was also launched using the fastest rocket NASA had that time. An Atlas-V rocket was used.

My family have a little contribution towards this mission as well.  My uncle Dr. Ranbir Sinha worked primarily on the design, analysis, computer simulation of separation, and test predictions of the payload fairing. Its definitely a proud moment for all the contributors including him. This rocket is part of guinness book of word records.

New Horizons was launched with such a speed that it crossed moon in hours where the Apollo spacecraft took days. Within 6 months it could reach Jupiter where it got a massive gravity assist which propelled it in an incredible speed towards Pluto. This is the reason why it can not be kept near Pluto's orbit for long and flies past it very fast giving only few hours for capturing images and doing other analysis.

As I am writing New horizons must be taking incredible image of Pluto's surface and other data which it is supposed to sent back when it flies past it and ready to transmit back to Earth. It takes almost 4 hours to transmit data back to earth.

NASA's Eyes on Pluto is a great way to see live simulation of the spacecraft.