NASA just flew the New Horizons spacecraft by Pluto. PLUTO.
We’re going to have HELLA pictures of Pluto very soon.P. L. U. T. O.Even more HELLA than the “teaser” picture right before the flyby:
LOOK AT THAT ADORABLE MOTHERFUCKER WITH A HEART ON IT AND EVERYTHING.
You know where that picture was taken from? 476,000 MILES AWAY (766,048 KILOMETERS) You know what the closest approach distance was for New Horizons? 7,800 MILES (12,600 KILOMETERS) FROM THE SURFACE OF PLUTO.
That’s right. That means YOU AINT EVEN SEEN SHIT YET, SON.
It took us over 9 years to get to our solar system buddy 31.9 AU away.
Do you know how far away an AU is? 93 MILLION GODDAMN MILES or 149.6 MILLION HOLY SHIT KILOMETERS. Multiplied by over 30. With a (dwarf) planet flying around in some CATAWAMPAS ASS orbit.
WE JUST HIT A DAMN NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK AS LARGE AS THE SOLAR SYSTEM.
Because of this distance, the New Horizons spacecraft will take 16 MONTHS to transfer all the data from the encounter back to Earth.
The Juno spacecraft has been traveling toward its destination since its launch in 2011, and is set to insert Jupiter’s orbit on July 4. Jupiter is by far the largest planet in the solar system. Humans have been studying it for hundreds of years, yet still many basic questions about the gas world remain.
The primary goal of the Juno spacecraft is to reveal the story of the formation and evolution of the planet Jupiter. Understanding the origin and evolution of Jupiter can provide the knowledge needed to help us understand the origin of our solar system and planetary systems around other stars.
Have We Visited Jupiter Before? Yes! In 1995, our Galileo mission (artist illustration above) made the voyage to Jupiter. One of its jobs was to drop a probe into Jupiter’s atmosphere. The data showed us that the composition was different than scientists thought, indicating that our theories of planetary formation were wrong.
What’s Different About This Visit? The Juno spacecraft will, for the first time, see below Jupiter’s dense clover of clouds. [Bonus Fact: This is why the mission was named after the Roman goddess, who was Jupiter’s wife, and who could also see through the clouds.]
Unlocking Jupiter’s Secrets
Specifically, Juno will…
Determine how much water is in Jupiter’s atmosphere, which helps determine which planet formation theory is correct (or if new theories are needed)
Look deep into Jupiter’s atmosphere to measure composition, temperature, cloud motions and other properties
Map Jupiter’s magnetic and gravity fields, revealing the planet’s deep structure
Explore and study Jupiter’s magnetosphere near the planet’s poles, especially the auroras – Jupiter’s northern and southern lights – providing new insights about how the planet’s enormous
Juno will let us take a giant step forward in our understanding of how giant planets form and the role these titans played in putting together the rest of the solar system.
New Pluto images reveal a crazy variety of surface features!
New Horizons began its yearlong download of new images and other data over the weekend. Close-up images downlinked in the past few days have more than doubled the amount
of Pluto’s surface seen at resolutions as good as 400 meters (440
yards) per pixel. They reveal new features as diverse as possible dunes,
nitrogen ice flows, and even networks of valleys that may have been carved by
material flowing over Pluto’s surface. They also show large regions that
display chaotically jumbled mountains.
Our Juno spacecraft may be millions of miles from Earth, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get involved with the mission and its science. Here are a few ways that you can join in on the fun:
Juno Orbit Insertion
This July 4, our solar-powered Juno spacecraft arrives at Jupiter after an almost five-year journey. In the evening of July 4, the spacecraft will perform a suspenseful orbit insertion maneuver, a 35-minute burn of its main engine, to slow the spacecraft by about 1,212 miles per hour so it can be captured into the gas giant’s orbit. Watch live coverage of these events on NASA Television:
Pre-Orbit Insertion Briefing Monday, July 4 at 12 p.m. EDT
Orbit Insertion Coverage Monday, July 4 at 10:30 p.m. EDT
Join Us On Social Media
Orbit Insertion Coverage Facebook Live Monday, July 4 at 10:30 p.m. EDT
Be sure to also check out and follow Juno coverage on the NASA Snapchat account!
The Juno spacecraft will give us new views of Jupiter’s swirling clouds, courtesy of its color camera called JunoCam. But unlike previous space missions, professional scientists will not be the ones producing the processed views, or even choosing which images to capture. Instead, the public will act as a virtual imaging team, participating in key steps of the process, from identifying features of interest to sharing the finished images online.
After JunoCam data arrives on Earth, members of the public will process the images to create color pictures. Juno scientists will ensure JunoCam returns a few great shots of Jupiter’s polar regions, but the overwhelming majority of the camera’s image targets will be chosen by the public, with the data being processed by them as well. Learn more about JunoCam HERE.
Ion thrusters are being designed for a wide variety of missions – from keeping communications satellites in the proper position to propelling spacecraft throughout our solar system. But, what exactly is ion propulsion and how does an ion thruster work? Great question! Let’s take a look:
Regular rocket engines: You take a gas and you heat it up, or put it under pressure, and you push it out of the rocket nozzle, and the action of the gas going out of the nozzle causes a reaction that pushes the spacecraft in the other direction.
Ion engines: Instead of heating the gas up or putting it under pressure, we give the gas xenon a little electric charge, then they’re called ions, and we use a big voltage to accelerate the xenon ions through this metal grid and we shoot them out of the engine at up to 90,000 miles per hour.
Something interesting about ion engines is that it pushes on the spacecraft as hard as a single piece of paper pushes on your hand while holding it. In the zero gravity, frictionless, environment of space, gradually the effect of this thrust builds up. Our Dawn spacecraft uses ion engines, and is the first spacecraft to orbit two objects in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
To give you a better idea, at full throttle, it would take our Dawn spacecraft four days to accelerate from zero to sixty miles per hour. That may sounds VERY slow, but instead of thrusting for four days, if we thrust for a week or a year as Dawn already has for almost five years, you can build up fantastically high velocity.
Why use ion engines? This type of propulsion give us the maneuverability to go into orbit and after we’ve been there for awhile, we can leave orbit and go on to another destination and do the same thing.
As the commercial applications for electric propulsion grow because of its ability to extend the operational life of satellites and to reduce launch and operation costs, we are involved in work on two different ion thrusters of the future: the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster (NEXT) and the Annular Engine. These new engines will help reduce mission cost and trip time, while also traveling at higher power levels.
I hope everyone had a fun Halloween! I dressed as my favorite photographer in the solar system, the Cassini orbiter, in celebration of its ‘E-21’ Fly-by last week through the icy geyser plumes of Enceladus, Saturn’s sixth-largest moon. My hasty use of the Captain America shield for the Huygens probe turned this into something of a “Captain Cassini” costume.