Preparing for New Horizons

The probe New Horizons has a date with Pluto. On the fourteenth of July 2015, the probe will flyby the frozen world, taking images and data with a number of instruments. All this you know, so why the recap? The probe is presently in a part of the solar system with nothing big in its way, shining brightly toward it. As a result, the instruments have all been switched on and will be tested prior to the mission (now isn’t a time for the message to be transmitted back asking for that last component to be fitted in…). The instruments include:

The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, LORRI, which ranks as one of the largest telescopes ever to go interplanetary. It will be taking images of the surface of Pluto at 300 times the resolving power of previous attempts, snapping things as small as a football field. It will also try to glimpse haze in Pluto’s atmosphere once the probe has passed it.

Ralph will observe Pluto in visible and infrared light, as well as taking spectral data to determine composition.

Alice will do the same thing, but in the ultraviolet, also looking at the moon Charon and other Kuiper-Edgeworth belt objects.

The Radio Science Experiment, REX, will do the same stuff in the radio wavelengths, looking therefore mainly at ions and electrons.

Solar Wind Around Pluto, SWAP, will look at, well, the solar wind around Pluto. This stream of charged particles represents the outer layers of plasma of the Sun, expanding away from it due to the temperature of the thing. What does the solar wind look like that far out? How does it interact with Pluto? At what rate is it taking material from Pluto?

Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation, PEPSSI, measures the composition and density of ions coming off Pluto.

The Student Dust Counter or SDC has been built and operated by students. It simply takes a measure of the dust hitting the probe.


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