Author Topic: New Horizons & Pluto  (Read 9100 times)

spuwho

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New Horizons & Pluto
« on: August 11, 2014, 10:32:36 PM »
Since BridgeTroll has done such a great job keeping us updated on Curiosity and Rosetta, I thought I would start the updates on New Horizons, the probe on its way to a rendezvous with Pluto in July 2015. While a year away, it is now close enough to get "better than Hubble" images of the once planet, now "dwarf planet". The last of the solar system to have been explored in depth, Pluto is already beginning to expose anomalies not seen before.

There are plans to have New Horizons search and locate other Pluto like bodies after it flies by and the call went out last month to all astronomy specialists to attempt to locate any TNO's (Trans-Neptunian Objects) that will be within visual or flyby range of New Horizons next year. Any new programming has to be done prior to the flyby. Just before NH reaches Pluto, communications with the probe has a 8 hour round trip time and bandwidth will be constrained to around 1Kbps. Post Pluto, NH will take several weeks to transmit all of the scientific data it will collect when it turns its antenna dish back towards the Earth. An exciting time in space exploration.

Images and information from Wikipedia and Slate.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Horizons



Recent new imaging from the spacecraft shows that while the moon Charon orbits Pluto, Pluto itself also has a unusual rotational field. This may explain why scientists for so many years have struggled to get a measurement of its mass and opacity.



A closer look at the rotation appears like this:



This is amazing in that Pluto is responding to its moon like two magnets pushing off of each other.

Per Slate:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/08/08/pluto_and_charon_new_horizons_probe_sees_them_orbiting_each_other.html

The New Horizons probe was launched in 2006 on a fast track to Pluto. This small spacecraft is packed with instruments designed to study Pluto and its system of moons, and will fly by the world in July 2015, just under a year from now.

It’s had a series of milestones along the way, but a new one is pretty significant: It’s been able to get images of both Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, and can see the two orbiting around each other!

That animation shows the two rocky ice balls in motion. It was taken with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, New Horizons’ main camera, when the probe was still well over 400 million kilometers away. The animation shows Pluto and Charon over the course of six days, from July 19–24, 2014. To give you a sense of scale, Charon orbits just under 20,000 km (12,000 miles) from Pluto; our home planet, Earth, would fit in between them with a few thousand kilometers to spare.

What’s most amazing about this is that you can see Charon orbiting Pluto, but you can also see Pluto wobbling over the course of that time too! Charon is pretty big compared with its parent, with about 11 percent of Pluto’s mass. That’s enough that its gravity pulls on Pluto pretty hard, so the two actually orbit around the center of mass of the system, called the barycenter.

That’s true for any two objects in orbit, but because Charon is so massive, that barycenter is located above Pluto’s surface. Picture two kids of different sizes facing each other, holding each other’s hands, and then swinging around; the big kid makes a little circle, and the little kid makes a big circle. In this case, Pluto is the big kid.

Not that Pluto is all that big. With a diameter of 2,370 km it’s far smaller than even our own Moon. But that’s enough to hold on to the five moons that we’ve discovered so far—it’s expected New Horizons may see more. And we know very little about it; it’s small and so far away that even our biggest telescopes struggle to see anything more than patches of different brightness and colors on Pluto’s surface. Is it geologically active? Is Charon? Pluto has a very thin atmosphere; what will it look like seen up close?

New Horizons will fly through the Pluto system, skimming the world at a distance of under 10,000 km (6,000 miles). This is an estimate; the exact position of Pluto and its moons is being refined as the probe approaches.  Ground-based observations are being combined with those from New Horizons itself to plot a more accurate course for the spacecraft, so it can be placed just where it needs to be for the Pluto flyby.

That close encounter will last about a day, when the probe is close enough to see lots of detail on Pluto. It’s too bad it can’t last longer, but Pluto orbits the Sun at a distance of several billion kilometers, and you can either get there quickly and have a short encounter, or have a longer encounter but a travel time of decades.

Opting for a fast flyby is a compromise, but a good one. We’ll get to see this weird little place up close for the first time in history. What will we find? No one really knows … but that’s why it’s called exploration.

Jason

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #1 on: August 13, 2014, 10:14:36 AM »
Nice work spuwho! 

spuwho

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2014, 10:15:02 PM »
Great news on the status of New Horizons and its trek to Pluto.

A call went out to the astronomy community to see if they could locate a KBO (Kuiper Belt Object) orbiting our Sun ever farther out than Pluto. After several months of searching, a call went to the Hubble Telescope team and after 2 weeks of dedicated search time, Hubble was able to detect 3 objects in the flight cone that would be reachable by New Horizons post Pluto.

The only bummer? It will take New Horizons another 4 years just to reach it! (2019)

The following is an update from the Planetary Society on Hubble's success.

http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2014/10151024-finally-new-horizons-has-a-kbo.html

Finally! New Horizons has a second target

What a huge relief: there is finally a place for New Horizons to visit beyond Pluto. A team of researchers led by John Spencer has discovered three possible targets, all in the Cold Classical part of the Kuiper belt. New Horizons will most likely visit one named "PT1" for "[New Horizons] potential target 1." PT1 has been imaged four more times by Hubble since its discovery, and those followup images have provided enough information on its orbit for four independently working teams to determine that New Horizons will be able to fly close past it in January 2019. It is probably about 30-45 kilometers in diameter and is easily reachable with New Horizons' limited fuel budget; targeting it will require only about 35% of the spacecraft's remaining fuel. New Horizons will have to fly an additional billion kilometers beyond Pluto in order to reach it where it orbits 43.4 AU away from the Sun.

This discovery has been a long time in coming. New Horizons launched toward Pluto in 2006, with plans for a further flyby of a second, likely much smaller Kuiper belt object. The Kuiper belt phase of the mission will turn New Horizons from a single flyby mission into a Kuiper belt tour. The only catch: the second target had not been discovered yet. Based on the current understanding of the population of the Kuiper belt, the New Horizons team expected that a focused survey with large telescopes would yield one or a few objects within New Horizons' reach. Unfortunately, what years of ground-based surveys actually yielded was the unpleasant discovery that our prior understanding of the Kuiper belt population was wrong. There were fewer small objects than predicted, and no reachable object was discovered. This summer, a desperate New Horizons team argued for, and won, the opportunity to use the Hubble Space Telescope to search. I wrote about the Hubble search for a New Horizons Kuiper belt target at length back in June.

Hubble has rescued the New Horizons Kuiper belt mission. In fact, PT1 was discovered during the pilot program, the small initial survey designed to validate the larger search, in pictures taken just a week after the search began. The whole search turned up a total of five potential targets; two have been ruled out. PT1 is certainly targetable, while PT2 and PT3 are potentially targetable.



It was a huge team effort, John Spencer told me. He said "Marc Buie led the data reduction effort, and was the first to find nearly all our Kuiper belt objects. Alex Parker was also a key player, working on predicted orbits that allowed us to stack the data correctly and on orbit determination - it was he who first determined that one of our objects was 100% targetable. Larry Wasserman and Yanping Guo helped us to confirm targetability. Hal Weaver played a huge role in the proposal and in the observation design, and Alan Stern was of course closely involved in all stages of the work. Simon Porter, Amanda Zangari, Anne Verbiscer, Susan Benecchi, Ray Sterner, and Dave Borncamp put a lot of effort into searching the data, and JJ Kavelaars, Keith Noll, Mark Showalter, Jean-Marc Petit, Cesar Fuentes, Dave Tholen, and Mike Belton contributed to the proposal and general strategizing."

PT1 was discovered on June 27 -- just 11 days after the search team was awarded time on Hubble -- in a photo taken by Hubble on June 26. Its existence was flagged by an automated processing pipeline and confirmed by eye by Marc Buie the same day. I asked Alan Stern who would get the discovery credit, and he said it would go to the entire team.



Hubble took followup photos on August 2, 3, 21, and 23 to determine its orbit, and on August 22 Alex Parker determined that the object was targetable by New Horizons. Since then, four independent analyses have confirmed it's within New Horizons' reach. It's a lot of data to sift through; so far, Hubble has acquired 830 images with its Wide Field Camera 3 in its search pattern, plus 100 more follow-up photos of all the objects discovered so far. And it's not easy to spot the faint objects they are looking for. The images contain a million stars that are brighter than PT1.

How close will New Horizons get? Initially, Alex told me, they couldn't entirely rule out the possibility that New Horizons would impact it. The likelihood of that was vanishingly tiny, of course, and after taking the followup images the uncertainty in PT1's position decreased to the point that New Horizons' path no longer intersected the range of the object's possible future positions. But the proximity means that the New Horizons team will be able to choose arbitrarily how close they want to fly to the object, limited by the uncertainty in their understanding of its orbital path. Picking that distance will require balancing the desire to get high-resolution observations with engineering constraints like how fast the spacecraft can rotate at closest approach to target the object. If the object is 30 kilometers in diameter, New Horizons' highest resolution camera, LORRI, would get 100 pixels across it at a range of 60,000 kilometers, or 1000 pixels across it at a range of 6000 kilometers. They will target the object in a burn well after the Pluto encounter, between October and December of 2015.


This diagram shows the orbits of the planets (blue), Pluto (white), and New Horizons' Kuiper belt target PT1 (orange), as well as the path of New Horizons (yellow). The diagram also contains dots for other cold classical Kuiper belt objects (orange dots) as well as asteroids and other Kuiper belt objects (white). The Kuiper belt dots are from a model population, based on Canada-France Ecliptic Plane Survey results. A few large Kuiper belt objects are called out in their real locations with large white dots: Eris, Makemake, and Haumea. A labeled still from this animation is also available.

The object does not yet have a formal name; it is called "1110113Y" on the Hubble website and "PT1" within the New Horizons team. Another numerical designation will come after the object is submitted to the Minor Planet Center, which the search team says it will do after they perform followup observations with Hubble in October to pin down the astrometry more precisely. Eventually, it will get a provisional name (2014 followed by some letters and numbers) from the Minor Planet Center. Hopefully it will get a formal name before January 2019, which is when New Horizons will fly past it.

Although PT1 is the most likely of the Hubble-discovered objects to be targeted, it's possible that followup observations may make PT2 or PT3 more desirable. PT2 and PT3 are both slightly brighter than PT1 and are therefore probably larger. Unfortunately, it's not possible to target two of these objects within New Horizons' fuel budget; they must select one.

What do we know about PT1 so far? Its orbit is circular and close to the plane of the ecliptic, so it is a Cold Classical Kuiper belt object, meaning that it has had a very different history from Pluto. Pluto is a member of a population of objects in the Kuiper belt whose orbits were changed as Neptune migrated outward, scattering them. Pluto now has an inclined and elliptical orbit that is locked in a resonance with Neptune, such that Pluto orbits the Sun twice for every three times Neptune does. In contrast, Cold Classical objects were probably never tossed around in this way. So PT1 could be very pristine, a cold, never-heated relic of solar system formation. On the other hand, it's very small, estimated to be 30 to 45 kilometers in diameter, and scientists think that most objects of that size are not primordial, but are actually fragments from collisions of larger objects, which would make it less pristine. No matter what, its size and orbital position mean that it will look very, very different from Pluto.

spuwho

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2014, 01:11:37 AM »
Per NBCNews:

It's Alive! NASA's New Horizons Pluto Probe 'Wakes Up' for Work

From 2.9 billion miles away, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft let its handlers know on Saturday that it has awakened from hibernation and is ready for the climax of its nine-year trip to Pluto.

The first signals were received at the mission's control center at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland via a giant radio antenna in Australia just before 9:30 p.m. ET, nearly four and a half hours after it was sent by the piano-sized probe. It takes that long for signals to travel between there and here at the speed of light.

Later readings confirmed that New Horizons was fully awake.

New Horizons has been spending about two-thirds of the time since its launch in 2006 in hibernation, to save on electronic wear and tear as well as operational costs. Every few months, the spacecraft's systems have been roused to wakefulness for a checkup, or for photo ops such as its Jupiter flyby in 2007.

The probe also has been sending weekly blips known as "green beacons" — to let the mission team know it's not dead, but only sleeping.

The instructions for the wakeup call were transmitted to the spacecraft during a checkup in August, and the signal sent on Saturday confirmed that the instructions were executed earlier in the day. To celebrate the occasion, the New Horizons team arranged for English tenor Russell Watson to record a special rendition of "Faith of the Heart" as a wakeup song.

From now on, New Horizons will remain awake continuously through its Bastille Day flyby of Pluto and its moons next July 14. After a few weeks of preparation, the probe's instruments will start making long-range observations on Jan. 15.

The spacecraft is currently about 162 million miles away from Pluto, but as that distance shrinks, the observations will get better and better. By next May, New Horizons' images of Pluto should be sharper than the best pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. And in July, the probe may catch sight of the clouds and ice volcanoes that scientists suspect may exist on the dwarf planet.

New Horizons will capture pictures of Pluto and its five known moons, but there may be surprises as well — still more moons, perhaps, or icy rings around Pluto. So many readings are expected to pile up that New Horizons will have to store the data in its memory and transmit it for more than a year after the encounter.

After Pluto, New Horizons' team is planning to send the probe past another icy object in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of cosmic material that lies beyond Neptune's orbit, in late 2018 or 2019. The probe's computer will also be reprogrammed to carry digital "selfies to the stars," courtesy of the One Earth New Horizons Message project.

spuwho

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #4 on: March 16, 2015, 05:55:34 PM »
Images via NASA and JPL:

Over January and February, as part of the prep of the New Horizons probe, they have been testing the long range optical and tracking systems.

From a range of 201,000,000 km last month the probe was able to discern the 2 other moons of Pluto, Nix & Hydra.



Here is where the probe now stands relative  to Pluto.



New Horizons is intended to pass within 10,000 km (6,200 mi) of Pluto, with its closest approach date estimated to occur on July 14, 2015

Provided it survives that far out, New Horizons is likely to follow the Voyager probes in exploring the outer heliosphere and mapping the heliosheath and heliopause. The heliopause might be reached around year 2047

spuwho

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #5 on: May 16, 2015, 09:53:07 PM »
New Horizons has now been able to discern all 5 known moons of Pluto as it prepares for its approach to study the dwarf planet.



We are now less than 60 days from the flyby.


BridgeTroll

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #6 on: June 15, 2015, 07:19:04 AM »
"The Year of Pluto"... 3 Minute trailer...

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/VDSvpQKGMr8" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/VDSvpQKGMr8</a>


The full 58 minute NASA production...

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/apYAkDWlbGc" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/apYAkDWlbGc</a>



In a boat at sea one of the men began to bore a hole in the bottom of the boat. On being remonstrating with, he answered, "I am only boring under my own seat." "Yes," said his companions, "but when the sea rushes in we shall all be drowned with you."

spuwho

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2015, 10:05:04 PM »
New Horizons ran into a computer glitch today, but it appears to be resolved.  The probe is 1 week away from Pluto interface.

Per LA Times:




All systems are go for New Horizons' flyby of Pluto on July 14, members of NASA's New Horizons team said two days after a technical glitch caused the spacecraft to briefly lose touch with our planet.

"The spacecraft and all the instruments are operating flawlessly," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute said Monday. "We came a long way to explore Pluto and all indications are that Pluto is not going to let us down."

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, which launched in 2006, will soon give scientists their first close-up look at the dwarf planet Pluto.

Stern was joined at a news conference by Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science division, and Glenn Fountain, New Horizons' project manager, to explain why the spacecraft lost contact with Earth for approximately 90 minutes on July 4.

Fountain said the glitch occurred when the ground team asked the primary computer on the New Horizons spacecraft to do two things at once. Command instructions for the nine-day encounter period from July 7 through July 16 were being burned onto the primary computer at the same time that it was compressing science data in the recorder.

"It was more than it could handle," Fountain said. "The processor said 'I'm overloaded' and the spacecraft did what it was supposed to do -- it went into safe mode."

When the spacecraft is in safe mode, it turns toward Earth and sends out a low-bit signal that tells the ground controllers they need to intervene, he explained. But the transition to safe mode takes about an hour. 

Although communication with the spacecraft was quickly regained, Stern made an executive decision to stop collecting science data until New Horizons goes into a preprogrammed encounter mode at 9:24 a.m. PDT Tuesday.

"We lost some Saturday science and all the science for Sunday and Monday, but the command decision I made is that it is much more important to focus on getting ready for the flyby than to collect science 8 or 9 million miles from the target," he said.

The decision, which was unanimously supported by the New Horizons team, will result in the loss of 16 planned images that had been scheduled to be taken by the black and white LORRI imager, as well as four color observations from the RALPH instrument, but Stern said it will have little effect on the overall success of the mission.

"We are still very far away, so these observations are not nearly as important as those we will make in the Pluto system when we will be 100 times closer than we were this weekend," Stern said.

Fountain added that there is no chance a similar glitch will happen during the encounter period when the spacecraft will fly within 7,700 miles of Pluto. The two events that caused the technological hiccup are not scheduled to happen at the same time again for the rest of the mission.

"While we prefer that this event hadn't occurred, I can tell you that this is a speed bump in the total return, and that we expect and are looking forward to getting back tomorrow with the data collect," Stern said.

The spacecraft has done a practice run of the entire close-approach sequence in space in 2013, so the New Horizons team feels confident that it will execute those commands without problem.

And even if it doesn't, all will not be lost. The sequence was designed so that all of the most important observations will be made twice.

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has spent 9.5 years barreling across 3 billion miles of space toward a close encounter with Pluto.

In all that time and across all that distance, a few speed bumps were inevitable.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/o9fYwUJxgwM" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/o9fYwUJxgwM</a>

spuwho

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2015, 11:42:01 AM »
3.3 Million miles away. Starting to see impact craters on the Plutonian moon Charon.


Jason

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #9 on: July 13, 2015, 09:17:56 AM »
THis is so flippin cool!  Can't wait to see the detailed images when they come in

spuwho

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #10 on: July 13, 2015, 12:32:24 PM »
At 7:49AM tomorrow (Tuesday) New Horizons will pass within 8000 miles of Pluto.  But because the antenna will be pointed away from the Earth during the imaging and sensor activity, the whole activity has been pre-programmed in advance.  We won't know a darn thing until the entire imaging sequence is complete and stored in the probes memory. 

Once the programmed sequence is complete, New Horizons will then turn itself around and point its antenna back to earth and begin transmitting all of its data.

The "priority" data to be transmitted first will be the low res close up imagery of Pluto which will take several days to complete. After that will be other low res imagery of Pluto's moons. It will take 2-3 years to transmit from memory all of the stored data the probe will collect during its flyby.

Since the probe will not reach its next target for 5 years, this provides plenty of time for it to send all of its high resolution imagery.

These transmissions take hours to return to Earth and at this distance, the data rate will be between 1Kbps to 9.6Kbps. Imagine sending a high res image from your phone over an old 9.6Kbps analog modem. That is what New Horizons will be dealing with.

Why does New Horizons have to "turn away" to collect the images? The Voyager probes sent back its images within hours in real time.

The Voyager probes main antenna were on gimbals which allowed the science packages to run while keeping the antenna pointed directed at Earth.

New Horizons is using the same antenna design, but due to budgets, it had to stay in a "fixed" position attached to the science modules. This means the entire probe has to rotate to stay in focal range of Pluto. This cause the antenna to go out of alignment with Earth.

This isn't a bad thing as memory technology and density have improved to the point that NH can store incredible amounts of scientific data before it sends it back.




Gunnar

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #11 on: July 13, 2015, 03:10:34 PM »
THis is so flippin cool!  Can't wait to see the detailed images when they come in

Same here - told my boy that we'd look at the pictures together and told him this would be the first time mankind will have proper photos of Pluto.
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Jason

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #12 on: July 14, 2015, 10:45:23 AM »
Our first sneak peek of Pluto in color...


spuwho

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #13 on: July 14, 2015, 04:20:11 PM »
While we await the results, here is the simulation of what NH will be doing when it goes into automation.

Note the "shots" each of the instruments will be performing,  this is an amazing piece of technology.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7kG6N9rLnk

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/G7kG6N9rLnk" target="_blank" class="new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/G7kG6N9rLnk</a>

JeffreyS

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Re: New Horizons & Pluto
« Reply #14 on: July 15, 2015, 01:15:19 PM »
Lenny Smash