Pluto is only a ‘day’ away

Pluto and Charon

Pluto and Charon, seen in an image taken July 3, show off the sides that will be facing away from New Horizons when it flies past on July 14. 


The New Horizons spacecraft will buzz Pluto and its moons in just one day — one Pluto day, that is. The icy world rotates once for every 6 days, 9 hours and 22 minutes on Earth. Starting at 10:28 p.m. Eastern July 7, Pluto will spin around just one more time before New Horizons makes its closest approach on July 14.

The probe officially begins its “encounter phase” today, scrutinizing Pluto with a suite of cameras, spectrometers and particle detectors. To make the most of its time at the dwarf planet, the spacecraft will only occasionally send highlights back to mission control over the next nine Earth days. By the end of the encounter, just 1 percent of all the data will have been transmitted; the remaining chunk won’t finish downloading until late 2016.

For more on the flyby, read SN‘s feature, “Rendezvous with Pluto.”

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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