New Horizons passes Pluto

While not what we generally think of as a UAS, NASA’s New Horizons Probe made its closest approach of Pluto today.  This complex unmanned system will certainly increase our understanding of space, and the technology will certainly trickle down to UAS.

From NASA: New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006; it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007, and will conduct a five-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons in summer 2015. Pluto closest approach is scheduled for July 14, 2015.

The highest resolution image from its closest approach at about 4pm today has not yet arrived from New Horizons, but the images so far are amazing!

Pluto High Resolution
Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless—possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes. (Picture and Caption from NASA)

Here is a size comparison:

Size Comparison
Recent measurements obtained by New Horizons indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 2370 km, 18.5% that of Earth’s, while Charon has a diameter of 1208 km, 9.5% that of Earth’s. (Picture and caption from NASA)

I’ll update this post tomorrow with the image that is expected to arrive and is promised to be even better than the one posted above.

Since I’m talking about NASA, here are a few pictures of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.  It gave me chills to be so close to a shuttle that our nation launched into space 39 times!  The docent said they made a conscious decision not to paint it, and it was interesting to see the effects of reentry on the thermal protection.

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