July 8, 2015 8:37 pm

Less than 6 Days to Pluto!

Photo of Pluto taken by New Horizons and received on July 8, 2015.

This image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 8, and has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument. Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI

When NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft entered into “safe mode” the other day, a collective shiver of dread settled over most of us following the nine-year, three-billion-mile journey.

Did a micrometeoroid just put a hole in our collective Plutonian dreams?

Did a rubber seal finally crack from the withering cold of space, leading to a catastrophic failure?

Is Pluto really the advance base of an alien species who zapped us for getting too close to discovering their secret?


Just a software glitch, and everything is fine now and back on track for July 14th. According to NASA, “The underlying cause of the incident was a hard-to-detect timing flaw in the spacecraft command sequence that occurred during an operation to prepare for the close flyby. No similar operations are planned for the remainder of the Pluto encounter.”

So, where does that leave us?

As of now, 5 days, 12 hours and a few minutes away from New Horizon’s closest approach to Pluto, at 7:49:57 a.m. EDT, July 14, 2015. At that time, New Horizons will be only 7,800 miles above the surface of Pluto, or 9 miles less than the distance between New York and Mumbai (7809 miles).

And for those of you who’ve been complaining about how fuzzy the images from New Horizons have been so far, keep in mind that the image above was taken at a distance of 5 million miles.

If this precipitous moment in human achievement doesn’t have you biting your nails on the edge of your seat already, nothing I can write here will change your mind.

But if you are counting the seconds to Pluto, you’ll be happy to know that NASA is live streaming the their coverage on NASA TV starting at 7:30 a.m. EDT.

Admittedly, what New Horizons sees at 7:49 won’t reach us back here on Earth until about 4.5 hours later.

But that’s not going to delay the celebration that’s been planned since well before New Horizons actually headed out for Pluto on January 19, 2006.

I will leave you with an image of a couple of characters who are both pretty excited about July 14th too.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons


Get the most out of StarTalk!

Ad-Free Audio Downloads
Priority Cosmic Queries
Patreon Exclusive AMAs
Signed Books from Neil
Live Streams with Neil
Learn the Meaning of Life
...and much more