I arrived today in the heart of Plutomania, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The scientists collaborating on the New Horizons team have already been here, keeping long hours, for weeks. Today APL welcomed about a thousand invited guests and a couple of hundred of the world’s journalists.
Today’s hot news from the press briefing: Nitrogen ions, lost from the top of Pluto’s intriguing atmosphere, were detected several days before they were expected. Pluto’s radius has been measured at 1185 kilometers, plus or minus 10, which firmly establishes it as larger, if only slightly larger, than its rival Kuiper Belt, Eris. Check out APL’s New Horizons page for links to a video archive of such briefings.
I met Kerri Beisser, APL’s education and public outreach lead for New Horizons. I met the New Horizons Educator Fellows, teachers who help other teachers bring Pluto into their classroom work. These teachers have been involved with the project for years, some since before launch. I’ll be assisting Kerri’s group in preparing for a big public event next Saturday.
The Kossiakoff Conference and Education Center should be buzzing Tuesday. It will be a busy day for the spacecraft, but it will fall silent as it concentrates on ignoring Earth and cramming as much instrument data as it can into its solid-state memories. Closest approach is 7:49:57 AM Eastern Daylight Time. A whole lot of people in Laurel, Maryland will be holding their breath.Not until about 9 at night, long past the critical busiest hours of the flyby, will NASA receive a signal from the spacecraft that will indicate whether it’s alive and well. Tune in, as the announcers say, tomorrow.