Pluto Flyby Fast Approaching

Pun very much intended.

On Tuesday, July 14th, the New Horizons spacecraft will make its closest approach to the dwarf planet Pluto (be nice in the comments).  It launched from Earth on January 19, 2006, and will be approximately 7,750 miles from Pluto at 1150 Universal Time on the 14th.

Universal Time is equivalent to Greenwich Time, meaning U.S. fans will need to be ready to watch early that morning (750 in the Eastern Time Zone, and 450 in the Pacific Time Zone).  Relevant coverage will be online, and on NASA TV, so check those local listings.

Pictures have already been released as the craft has come within visual range of Pluto, Charon and the other bodies orbiting each other.  New Horizons will focus on the flyby and not be releasing as much data on the 14th.  More information will be forthcoming once the craft has cleared the vicinity of Pluto, and a full set of data will not be available until September.  To tide you over, here’s how Pluto and Charon looked to New Horizons on June 30 (courtesy of NASA).

This is the last time humans will fly by a dwarf planet for a long time (absent some astronomical craziness).  I think this moment is of a kind with when two Pioneer spacecraft and later the two Voyager craft left the solar system.

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