As the western world woke up Tuesday, a once-in-a-lifetime event went down: Humanity made its first-ever visit to Pluto.
Earth’s emissary was NASA’s robotic New Horizons spacecraft, and it performed a flawless 31,000-mph drive-by science mission that lasted about 30 minutes.
Unfortunately, it’s going to take 9 months or possibly up to 16 months to send all of that data back. New Horizons basically has a dial-up-like connection with Earth — and it’s likely the images, spectrometry, and other information filled most of the spacecraft’s two 8GB memory banks.
It’s going to take a long time to send that data home.
Fortunately, NASA asked New Horizons to beam some “first look” photos Wednesday morning and afternoon. So today at 3 p.m. ET we get to see the best-ever views of Pluto and its moons Charon, Hydra, and Nix.
While the world awaits the big reveal, below are the types of images you can expect to see, thanks to some expert sleuthing by the Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla:
The images aren’t of Pluto, Charon, Hydra, and Nix, of course. They’re stand-ins from the Voyager missions, which launched in the 1970s and photographed Jupiter’s and Saturn’s moons.
The key thing is this chart shows the angles and levels of detail we can expect to see.
Take special note at images capped with yellow text. Those are the kind of flyby views NASA pre-programmed New Horizons to send back today:
We’ll get a shot like this of Pluto — which is actually a view of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede — and it will be one of the closest photos
ever taken of the icy world:
But perhaps more exciting are the unprecedented views of Pluto’s mysterious moons, Charon.
Here’s Lakdawalla’s mock-up using Saturn’s moon Rhea:
We’ll also get a mosaic of Charon close-ups, like so:
And Hydra and Nix, mocked up using Voyager images of Hyperion and Janus, respectively:
Read Lakdawalla’s and the Planetary Society’s full post on what to expect from the New Horizons flyby of the Pluto system here.
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