When it comes to landmark achievements in space exploration, today, July 14, is one for the history books — the day humanity reached Pluto for the first time.
If everything goes according to plan, a NASA spacecraft, called New Horizons, will fly by Pluto at 9:49pm (AEST). New Horizons is the first spacecraft in history to ever visit Pluto, and it’s been a long time coming after 9 years in space.
NASA will stream live countdown coverage of the event starting at 9:30pm (AEST), followed by a briefing on the mission from 10:00pm (AEST) to 11:00pm (AEST).
So, you might have to stay up a little later than usual, but if you want to celebrate Pluto with the rest of the world, you can by checking out the live feed below.
It’s important to note that the countdown coverage will not include any live feed of the spacecraft moving by Pluto because we have no telescope strong enough to see the tiny piano-sized spacecraft in enough detail. And the spacecraft is about 4.5 light hours from Earth, so its coverage of the flyby will take at least 4.5 hours to reach us.
At its closest approach, New Horizons is intended to pass within 12,500 km miles of Pluto at a speed of around 500,000 km/h. At such breakneck speeds, the spacecraft will only have a few hours to collect as much scientific information on the geography and composition of Pluto as it can.
That means that, at the time of its closest approach, New Horizons will be too busy to send a signal to Earth, confirming that the mission was a success. So, that crucial message — letting scientists know if the spacecraft’s flyby took place without incident — should come in later on Tuesday at 10:53 am (AEST), according to the BBC.
“That [message] is going to be a very highly anticipated even because it’s going to be sort of putting the cherry on top,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons mission, said in a NASA news briefing on Monday.
NASA will stream live coverage of the incoming message starting at 10:30am (AEST) Wednesday.
NASA also has a way that you can experience the flyby in real time with their app “Eyes on Pluto.” The app uses the calibrations on New Horizons to simulate when and where the spacecraft is in reference to Pluto.
“The picture in picture view shows you where the spacecraft is looking and what its advanced instruments can see,” NASA explains. “You can use a ‘live’ mode to see what New Horizons is doing right now, or preview the flyby of the Pluto System.”
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