First Detailed Images of Pluto to be Captured in 2015
After nine years and a sojourn of more than 3 billion miles, NASA’s New Horizons space probe is nearing Pluto and will return the first detailed images of the dwarf planet this spring.
The probe was launched in 2006 from Cape Canaveral and, at the time of its launch, was the fastest spacecraft in use.
On January 14, NASA announced New Horizons had woken from its final hibernation period to prepare for its final approach to Pluto. Before arriving for its pass through Pluto and the orbit of its five moons, it will begin by taking long-range photos.
The probe – which was manufactured by John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and San Antonio-based Southwest Research Institute – is equipped with a Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) to capture images as well as assist the team in final course corrections while completing the final leg to Pluto. Although the images will initially show only a minute dot, scientists can use this to determine distance and determine necessary course adjustments
When the probe finally reaches its destination in the spring, more detailed images will be captured of the dwarf planet’s surface than the most powerful telescopes on, or orbiting, earth are capable of.
New Horizons previously relayed images of Jupiter and the Jovian moons to Earth in 2006 before entering hibernation for the voyage to Pluto.