Countdown to Pluto

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Posted by Ayleen Barbel Fattal

All eyes will be on Pluto Tuesday at FIU’s Stocker AstroScience Center.

Researchers will open the doors to the campus observatory for a celebration of NASA’s nearly 10-year mission to explore Pluto. Scientists and astronomy enthusiasts will convene starting at 7 a.m., July 14 at Stocker.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is expected to make its closest approach to Pluto at 7:49 a.m. The live NASA feed will be broadcast at the Stocker event, which is free and open to the public. New Horizons will come within 7,800 miles of Pluto as it attempts to map the dwarf planet and its largest moon, Charon, though confirmation won’t come until more than four hours later. It takes 4.5 hours for New Horizons’ signals to travel back to Earth at the speed of light and another 4.5 hours for commands to be sent back.

“This will be the first time in human history that we get a close-up look at the former planet Pluto,” Physics professor, James Webb said. “It is a great example of a whole class of objects out there that represent the early solar nebula out of which all planets came from.”

The New Horizons mission to explore Pluto launched in 2006. After more than nine years, the spacecraft will capture the sharpest and most accurate images of Pluto with detailed topographical maps similar to Earth’s satellite images.

“New Horizons will look at surface features, chemical composition, atmosphere, magnetic field, etc.,” Webb said. “We currently know very little about Pluto. New Horizons will change all of that.”

Follow the path of the spacecraft in coming days in real time with a visualization of the actual trajectory data, using NASA’s online Eyes on Pluto. Stay in touch with the New Horizons mission with #PlutoFlyby and on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/new.horizons1

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