1. Google Doodle celebrates New Horizons Pluto flyby; Little planet bigger than scientists thought

Google Doodle celebrates New Horizons Pluto flyby; Little planet bigger than scientists thought

Google celebrates New Horizons Pluto flyby with a doodle. Scientists says that the New Horizons spacecraft has nailed the size of the faraway icy world.

By: | Delhi | Updated: July 14, 2015 10:01 AM
New Horizons Pluto flyby Google doodle

Google celebrates New Horizons Pluto flyby with a doodle. (Image: Google)

As the planet Earth is getting its first chance for a closer look at Pluto, Google celebrates the event by dedicating a doodle for New Horizons Pluto flyby.

New Horizons is a thousand-pound space probe that has been sent by NASA. The spacecraft is the size of a baby grand piano with a salad bowl – the dish antenna – on top. It will come closest to Pluto at 7:49 am EDT (1149 GMT) Tuesday. Thirteen hours later, around 9 pm EDT (0100 GMT), flight controllers will learn if everything went well. The spacecraft will have sent the confirmation signal 4 { hours earlier; that’s the one-way, speed-of-light, data-transit time between New Horizons and Earth.

The pictures this probe would be sending to the Earth would help scientists draw a more clear picture of the far-off dwarf planet and would open doors for the next milestone in cosmic discovery.

The doodle has been created by Kevin Laughlin.

Little Pluto is a little bigger than anyone imagined

On the eve of NASA’s historic flyby of Pluto, scientists announced on Monday that the New Horizons spacecraft has nailed the size of the faraway icy world.

Measurements by the spacecraft set to sweep past Pluto on Tuesday indicate the diameter of the dwarf planet is 1,473 miles (2,370 kilometers), plus or minus 12 miles (19 kilometers). That’s about 50 miles (80 kilometers) bigger than previous estimates in the low range.

Principal scientist Alan Stern said this means Pluto has a lower density than thought, which could mean an icier and less rocky interior.

New Horizons’ 3 billion-mile (4.8 billion-kilometer), 9{-year journey from Cape Canaveral, Florida, culminates Tuesday morning when the spacecraft zooms within 7,767 miles (12,500 kilometers) of Pluto at 31,000 mph (49,900 kph).

Discovered in 1930, Pluto is the last planet in our solar system to be explored. It was a full-fledged planet when New Horizons rocketed away in 2006, only to become demoted to dwarf-planet status later that year.

New Horizons has already beamed back the best-ever images of Pluto and its big moon Charon on the far fringes of the solar system.

Three new discoveries were revealed on Monday, a tantalizing sneak preview as the countdown to closest approach reached the 21-hour mark.

Besides the revised size of Pluto – still a solar system runt, not even one-fifth the size of Earth – scientists have confirmed that Pluto’s north pole is indeed icy as had been suspected. It’s packed with methane and nitrogen ice.

And traces of Pluto’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere have been found farther from the dwarf planet than anticipated. New Horizons detected lost nitrogen nearly a week ago.

As for pictures, the resolution is going to increase dramatically. Until New Horizons, the best pictures of Pluto had come from the Hubble Space Telescope. Hubble did its best from Earth orbit, but managed to produce only crude pixelated blobs of the minuscule world.

Stern expects ”a little bit of drama” during closest approach, when the spacecraft is out of touch with ground controllers. New Horizons cannot make observations and send back data at the same time, so scientists opted for maximum science during those most critical hours.

Pluto is the largest object in the so-called Kuiper Belt, considered the third zone of the solar system after the inner rocky planets and outer gaseous ones. This unknown territory is a shooting gallery of comets and other small bodies; every time one of these wayward objects smack one of Pluto’s five known moons, the ejected material ends up in orbit around Pluto, thus the debris concern. An extension of the $720 million mission, not yet approved, could have New Horizons flying past another much smaller Kuiper Belt object, before departing the solar system.

(With inputs from AP and Google Doodle archive)

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