As the New Horizons probe passes by dwarf planet Pluto and its satellites on July 14th, it will use a host of instruments to collect data. The following is the sequence of events for the flyby:
- On approach, LORRI takes critical optical navigation images to confirm the spacecraft is on the right course for the flyby. The team can use these data to adjust timing of the observation sequence as late as July 12.
- Final radio transmission prior to closest approach is received at ~11:15pm EDT on July 13.
- During the flyby on July 14, LORRI will take high-resolution B/W images, Ralph / MVIC will make color maps, and Ralph / LEISA will image the system in the infrared, all of which will help determine the geology and composition of the surface.
- Closest approach to Pluto is at 7:49:57 a.m. EDT on July 14.
- Approximately one hour after closest approach, at 8:51am EDT on July 14, the spacecraft will turn around and, with Pluto between it and the Sun, Alice will make ultraviolet measurements to determine the composition of the atmosphere.
- When Pluto is between the spacecraft and Earth, REX will receive transmissions from the Deep Space Network (DSN) to determine the pressure and temperature of the atmosphere.
- The spacecraft will orient toward Earth and make its first transmission after the closest approach at approximately 4:30 pm EDT, which arrives at earth at approximately 9:00 pm EDT.
- Throughout the flyby, SWAP and PEPSSI will characterize the energetic particle environment, and SDC will search for dust in the Pluto system.
Data gathered will be stored and transmitted back to Earth, slowly, taking over a year to complete. We will, however, get a couple images are expected pretty much right away:
- B/W images of Pluto and Charon at 15 km/pixel and 20 km/pixel (LORRI)
- Color image of Pluto and Charon at 28 km/pixel (Ralph/MVIC)
- Color image of Charon at 7 km/pixel (Ralph/MVIC)
- B/W full-frame image of Pluto at 4 km/pixel (LORRI)
Timing dependent on what happens during downlinks with the Deep Space Network, hence subject to change.
Instruments on the New Horizons spacecraft:
- Alice – ultraviolet imaging spectrometer
- LORRI – LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager
- PEPSSI – Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation
- Ralph – multispectral and near-infrared hyperspectral imaging instrument
- Ralph/LEISA – Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array
- Ralph/MVIC – Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera
- REX – Radio science EXperiment
- SWAP – Solar Wind Around Pluto
- SDC – Student Dust Counter
Data provided by Jimmy Lee from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center via the Solar System Ambassador Program.
You can watch a real-time simulation of this historic flyby mission with the NASA Eyes on the Solar System App. Download the app here: http://eyes.nasa.gov/, and install it. Launch the app, and choose Tours and Features in the upper right. A menu of tours will popup, choose New Horizons from the list:
You will be presented with a real-time simulation of the encounter: