New Horizons recovers from overload, is on track for Pluto flyby


THE OTHER RED PLANET Pluto’s ruddy surface comes into view in a close-up taken on July 3, 12.5 million kilometers from the dwarf planet.


The New Horizons spacecraft sent back three of the most detailed images of Pluto to date shortly before the probe entered a safe mode on July 4. The pictures, taken when New Horizons was about 13 million kilometers from the dwarf planet, show three different swaths of the icy surface as Pluto slowly rotated on its axis.

At about 2 p.m. Eastern on July 4, mission control lost contact with New Horizons. The computer was compressing recently acquired data at the same time that mission control was uploading the sequence of commands needed for the July 14 Pluto flyby, mission scientists reported at a July 6 news conference. The overload of activity prompted the spacecraft to temporarily put itself into safe mode, in which the spacecraft points its antenna toward Earth and awaits further instructions.

“New Horizons is operating flawlessly and is on course,” said Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator. The final command sequence has been uploaded and is ready to execute starting July 7. “All early indications are that Pluto isn’t going to let us down.”

3 views of pluto, July 1-3, 2015
SPINNING WORLD Pluto shows off three of its faces in a series of images taken July 1 and 3 by the New Horizons spacecraft. NASA, JHUAPL, SWRI
headshot of Associate News Editor Christopher Crockett

Christopher Crockett is an Associate News Editor. He was formerly the astronomy writer from 2014 to 2017, and he has a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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