BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Closing in on the really far out. If everything goes right, a spacecraft built and controlled in Maryland will come out of hibernation Saturday night.
Alex DeMetrick reports it will eventually give Earth its first ever close-up look of Pluto.
In 2006 when the New Horizons spacecraft left Earth, Pluto was still a planet. It’s since been classified as a dwarf planet. Nine years later, it remains the mission’s goal.
“It will be a completely new world. We’re going to turn it into a real world with incredible diversity and complexity,” Dr. Hal Weaver of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab said. “The spacecraft will fly about 7,700 miles above the surface of Pluto. ”
That’s close since the trip has already logged three billion miles.
It’s headed for an area called the Kuyper Belt, a kind of debris field which circles the outer edge of the solar system. Pluto and its moon, Charon, may be the Kuyper’s largest objects.
There are four smaller moons as well, and concern about what else might be flying around Pluto.
“Even a one millimeter dust particle could blow a hole in the spacecraft, and we don’t want that to happen,” Dr. Weaver said.
What needs to happen is New Horizons’ waking up from hibernation Saturday night. The spacecraft needs to let controllers at Hopkins Applied Physics Lab know it’s ready to work.
Right now, the best images from the Hubble Space Telescope are less than sharp.
The spacecraft is approaching a July 2015 meeting with Pluto.
“We start getting resolution as good as Hubble at about late April and then it just gets better and better and better,” Dr. Weaver said.
Controllers at the Hopkins Applied Physics Lab hope to hear from New Horizons between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Saturday night.
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