New Horizons spacecraft at Pluto
New Horizons spacecraft at PlutoNASA

After orbiting for more than nine years and three billion miles, the New Horizons spacecraft is finally inside the dwarf planet's Hill sphere of influence and is ready to take the first comprehensive measurements and photographs of Pluto.

As of now, New Horizons is less than a million miles away from Pluto, with the spacecraft speedily approaching the 31,000 mile per hour flyby that will bring it within 7,800 miles (about 12,500km) of Pluto.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which has been monitoring the mission that has been successful so far, will be live streaming the event.

In the words of Alan Stern, New Horizons' principal investigator, present at the morning briefing on 13 July, "Fasten your seat belts — New Horizons has arrived at the Pluto System."

While this may sound something from an episode of Star Trek, it seems like the world is indeed on the verge of creating history.

The event is being live streamed at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Here is a quick look at everything that's expected from this historic event, alongside all the live streaming timings and links for it.

New Horizons' Pluto Flyby – In a Nutshell 

What Do We Know So Far

  • As of now, the biggest piece of news is that New Horizons has already solved the mystery surrounding Pluto's size. The NASA has announced that Pluto is 2,370km (about 1,473 miles) in diameter, making it bigger than Eris – a darker and denser object that lives farther out in the Kuiper Belt.
  • Apart from that, there's also the confirmation that Pluto has an icy polar cap, made of a mix of frozen methane and nitrogen gases. While scientists have already established that Pluto's thin atmosphere has nitrogen in it, we already know that the gas is escaping Pluto's atmosphere quicker than expected.

What Remains to Found

  • Well, to be perfectly honest, there's still a lot be found about Pluto than we expected before. There's some speculation regarding Pluto's geographic features, with a few of them already being discussed at NASA's early morning meeting.
  • Apparently, Pluto may have a subsurface ocean, owing to evidences of plumes escaping the planet. The team of scientists will be investigating them when New Horizons is behind Pluto, looking back toward the Sun.
  • Pluto's surface isn't as pockmarked like the moon, although there are a few crater holes on the surface. Apart from that, the true nature of the huge, black equatorial region of Pluto is still unknown. Plus, what's the deal with the inexplicably massive, white, heart-shaped region?

Pluto System in Hi-Rez is Happening

  • While NASA has indeed been feeding us with incremental photos of Pluto and Charon for weeks, expect things to get clearer once the New Horizons gets closer to it.
  • For the more keen-eyed followers, note that the Twitter bot NewHorizonsBot is your best source for instant links to the latest uploads to the JUAPL server.
  • At around 11:15PM ET, 13 July, the team received a downlink from New Horizons with the best full-frame image from the black-and-white LORRI camera. Now it is highly likely to be released on 14 July morning. 
  • Following this, New Horizons will "go dark" as it prepares for its flyby the next morning. Since the spacecraft is just zooming past an orbit around Pluto, the spacecraft will focus its instruments to take full advantage of the distance.
  • New Horizons is set to make that closest approach — about 12,500km (or 7,800 miles) — at 7:49AM ET. According to Stern, there's only a one-in-10,000 chance that the spacecraft will be impacted by debris.
  • However, New Horizons is travelling at about 31,000 miles per hour and any contact with pieces of debris of significant size could spell danger for the probe. NASA TV will hold a live broadcast for this from 7:30AM ET until 9:00AM ET.
  • On Wednesday morning, at 7AM ET, scientists will downlink the best full-frame image of Charon. Besides, we should also be treated to a glimpse of Hydra, one of Pluto's other moons.
  • Later in the day, we should successfully receive the first high-resolution mosaic of Pluto, set to be released sometime around 3:25PM ET.

New Horizons' Pluto Flyby – Full Schedule (NASA Live Stream Info)

Tuesday, 14 July

  • 7:30AM - 9:00AM ET: NASA TV coverage begins. Pluto and Charon images released.
  • 7:49AM ET: New Horizons flies by Pluto at a distance of 7,800 miles away.
  • 8:30PM - 9:10PM ET: NASA TV coverage of New Horizons' "phone home" from mission control.
  • 8:53PM ET: New Horizons' scheduled data connection.
  • 9:30PM - 10:00 PM ET: NASA TV coverage of a scheduled media briefing on the health and mission status of New Horizons.

Wednesday, 15 July

  • 3:00PM - 4:00PM ET: NASA TV coverage of media briefing and high-resolution images of Pluto. An image of Nix, another one of Pluto's moons, will also be released.

Thursday, 16 July

  • 12:24AM ET: New Pluto mosaic released.
  • 3:24AM ET: Highest resolution mosaic image of Charon released.
  • 9:23AM ET: Color image of Pluto and Charon orbiting each other released.

Friday, 17 July

  • 12:33PM ET: Best-resolution photo of a fully lit Hydra, one of Pluto's moons.

Saturday, 18 July

  • 6:30AM ET: Crescent photo of Pluto from its backside. Best color image of Nix, one of Pluto's moons.

Monday, 20 July

  • 12:03PM ET: Final Pluto mosaic image downlinked until September.

New Horizons' Pluto Flyby – People, Links to Follow

  • Alan Stern – New Horizon's principal investigator, who hasn't been shy about how his team still refers to Pluto as a planet.
  • Mike Brown – The man behind the movement to remove Pluto's planetary status in the first place.
  • Kimberly Ennico Smith – Deputy project scientist for New Horizons.
  • Dava Newman – NASA's new deputy administrator.
  • Emily Lakdawalla – Senior editor of The Planetary Society.
  • Alex Parker – One of New Horizon's scientists involved with the imaging of Pluto.
  • Sara Hörst – Assistant professor of planetary science at Johns Hopkins.
  • John Grunsfeld – NASA's science lead.
  • Amy Shira Teital – NASA's social media correspondent for New Horizons.
  • The official New Horizons Twitter account.

Stay tuned for more updates!

[Source: The Verge]