Excitement grows as New Horizons spacecraft nears historic flyby of Pluto

Historic flyby of Pluto on track: scientists standby to be wowed by detailed images of the mysterious planet.

LAUREL, MARYLAND UNITED STATES (NASA) – Nearing the end of a 9-1/2-year journey to the solar system’s unexplored outer reaches, scientists said they were excited about the new images of Pluto being received by the New horizons spacecraft on Sunday (July 12)

Two days away from the historic flyby of Pluto, NASA”s New Horizons spacecraft is sending back pictures of Pluto that are showing images of the small planet with more clarity and definition according to New Horizons principle investigator Alan Stern.

“Now when you look at an image of pluto you see a real planet there you see a complex world that just begs for exploration and yet we’re going to do a hundred times better than that with the images made on Tuesday in fact the images made will have 10,000 times as many pixels in each pixel as we see now” Stern said.

NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft is on track to fly within about 7,750 (12,500 km) of Pluto on July 14, despite a computer glitch over the weekend that threatened the important flyby of the unexplored planet.

Scientists believe Pluto and the thousands of other recently discovered Kuiper Belt objects are frozen mini-planets and building blocks left over from the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago.

Pluto was once considered the ninth planet in the solar system, but it was striped of that title in 2006 after astronomers discovered several similar icy bodies in the Kuiper Belt region, about 50 times farther away from the sun than Earth.

Even before its demotion, Pluto was a planetary oddball, just 1,460 miles (2,350 km) in diameter, which is smaller than Earth’s moon, and circling the sun in a tilted, oval-shaped orbit that occasionally reaches inside neighbor Neptune’s path.

Scientists suspect Pluto, Charon and its four small moons, all discovered in Hubble images after New Horizons launched, formed after an ancient collision of two icy bodies.

That theory will be tested with the new evidence of the tumbling, wobbly moons, and observations by New Horizon.

New Horizons, launched in January 2006, will be the first spacecraft to visit Pluto. It will then head into the Kuiper Belt for a possible flyby of a second object in 2019.

Scientists believe Pluto and the thousands of other recently discovered Kuiper Belt objects are frozen mini-planets and building blocks from the solar system’s formation 4.6 billion years ago.