NASA’s New Horizons Probe

NASA’s New Horizons probe recently completed a historic flyby of The planet Pluto. The 700 million dollar (£451 million) probe, which is the size of a baby grand piano, blasted off from Earth in January 2006, and journeyed a distance of three billion miles at a speed of more than 36,000 mph before making a historic flyby of the planet Pluto on Tuesday 14 July 2015 at more than 45,000 km/h (28,00mph) at 12.49pm BST / 7.49am ET on a trajectory which brought it within 12,500km 7,700 miles of Pluto’s surface.

NASA’s New Horizons Probe is bristling with cameras and other technology As well as a telescopic camera, the probe also carries a suite of sophisticated instruments and other instrumentation for analysing Pluto’s composition and studying its atmosphere as it sped past Pluto and its five small moons, Charon, Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos.

NASA’s New Horizons Probe is also carrying onboard the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930 using a 13-inch photographic telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. Today’s encounter with Pluto also coincides with the 50th anniversary of the first ever fly-by of Mars by the Mariner 4 probe.

Scientists believe that Pluto has a thin atmosphere of nitrogen, methane and carbon dioxide, which expands as the dwarf planet’s elongated 248-year orbit takes it closer to the sun causing icy material on its surface to vaporise. And may bear signs of past volcanic activity and could even have liquid water beneath its frozen surface. The spacecraft will also take a look at Pluto’s giant moon Charon, which is just over half its size, as well as its other moons Styx, Nix, Hydra and Kerberos.

Images beamed back from New Horizons so far have shown Pluto in shades of red and orange, with hints of valleys, mountains and craters. On Tuesday Nasa released a new image of Pluto. The picture was taken at about 9pm BST / 4pm ET on 13 July, when The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 km) from the surface. Images show that a thin nitrogen atmosphere clings around Pluto and scientists believe that it sheds snow, with flakes tumbling down to the surface before vaporising back into the atmosphere. Other measurements from the probe have found that Pluto was larger than previously thought, at 2,370km across. The larger size means that it is probably less dense than had been presumed, and so has more ice under its surface. It is 1,473 miles in diameter, according to information from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager attached to the New Horizons craft.

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