NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has been traveling for nine and a half years, speeding ever closer to our solar system’s last major unexplored world: Pluto.
For the first time ever, scientists are getting close-up views of the most popular dwarf planet, and today is the pinnacle of New Horizons’ whole 3-billion-mile trip.
Celebrate the closest approach with Astronomy and Discover magazines as we bring you all the latest information live right here today and tomorrow.
Keep up with the latest developments of New Horizons LIVE on our live blog!
At around 7:50 a.m. EDT tomorrow, New Horizons will officially make history as it makes its closest approach to Pluto, opening a whole new realm of solar system exploration. But what can we expect here on planet Earth, some 3 billion miles from the encounter?
Because New Horizons has so much important data to collect, it can’t focus its precious energy on delivering information back to Earth in real time. Instead, it will actually be incommunicado for most of the day July 14. Only later will downlinking begin.
Astronomy.com will have complete continuous coverage starting just before 7:30 a.m. EDT July 14 in our shared live blog with Discover magazine, but here’s a brief timeline of what you can expect (and when). It’s important to note that although we know when some data will arrive on Earth, that doesn’t mean it will be made public that moment. The New Horizons team will release the data and images on their own schedule.
With less than 24 hours to go before closest approach, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is seeing Pluto at a level of detail that grows sharper literally by the minute — not surprising when you consider that it is closing in on its target at nearly 31,000 miles per hour.
Late Monday morning, members of the mission science team held a news briefing at the Johns Hopkins University Applies Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, site of mission operations. Principal Investigator Alan Stern broke some major discoveries from the past few days. Perhaps most importantly, the science team has refined Pluto’s radius to 736 miles (plus or minus 6 miles). This is on the high end of previous estimates and, when combined with the ice dwarf planet’s known mass, implies a lower density than thought and thus a higher proportion of ice forming its bulk.
Earlier assessments of Pluto’s size were fraught with uncertainty because the atmosphere, thin as it is, makes it difficult to pinpoint the world’s actual surface from Earth.
Brain-computer interfaces always sound incredibly futuristic. But this one is even wilder than most.
In a pair of studies published Thursday, researchers say they’ve linked up multiple brains, of both monkeys and rats, to form an “organic computer.” By literally putting their heads together, the networked animals performed simple tasks and computations better than an animal flying solo.
The experiment could point toward future brain interfaces between people, allowing learning or collaboration to pass directly from brain to brain. Read More
In the fight against disease-bearing mosquitoes, residents in the Brazilian city of Piracicaba have a new ally: mosquitoes.
A biotech company has released into the wild an army of genetically modified male mosquitoes that will never see their children. That’s because these mosquito dads pass on a gene to their offspring that causes them to die before they ever mature.
It’s a cutting-edge battle tactic that aims to reduce the population of mosquitoes that can infect people with dengue fever — and a new study finds that it’s working. Read More
Triceratops is one of the most iconic dinosaur species we know, in part because of its distinctive looks: a large head frill, two huge brow horns, and another horn on its nose.
And now it’s got a new cousin. Researchers have discovered a remarkable new species of ceratopsian called Wendiceratops pinhornensis that lived 79 million years ago.
As one of the oldest specimens of the horned dinosaur family, Wendiceratops might help answer why, precisely, these horns and frills evolved.
Forget fireworks: on-demand shooting stars are the future of sky-high pyrotechnics.
It sounds far-fetched, but a Japanese start-up company, called ALE, believes it has the technological muscle to manufacture artificial “meteor showers” that light up the night sky. ALE plans to pull off this feat by sending a tiny satellite into orbit that would eject a stream of 1-inch balls that glow as they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. Read More
While people throughout the U.S. were enjoying a holiday weekend, NASA scientists were battling an eleventh-hour glitch in the New Horizons mission.
The spacecraft, now nine years into its journey, is just days from giving mankind its closest look at Pluto ever. But on July 4, NASA scientists lost contact with the spacecraft for over an hour, due to a timing glitch that overloaded the spacecraft’s computer systems. The mission team, working around the clock, has since restored communications and says the July 14 flyby hasn’t been endangered by the glitch. New Horizons is expected to begin gathering data once again when its approach sequence begins tomorrow. Read More
We all know that woolly mammoths are modern-day elephants’ distant shaggier cousins, but why, exactly, were mammoths so different?
That’s a tough question, but scientists believe they have some answers after performing the first comprehensive analysis of the woolly mammoth genome. Not only did scientists uncover the genetic changes that allowed mammoths to thrive in the Arctic, they also resurrected a mammoth gene by transplanting it into a human cell. Read More
It’s harder to stop and smell the roses these days, and not just because modern life is hectic. Thanks to generations of breeding for looks, roses’ scents have faded.
Now, a team of geneticists say they’ve found the gene that gives roses their scent, and that discovery may help rose breeders produce sweeter-smelling roses again.