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New Horizons Fine-Tunes Its Course for MU69

Artist’s concept of New Horizons approaching 2014 MU69 (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

A little goes a long way—especially when you’re traveling 51,000 mph! On Feb. 1, 2017 NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed a 44-second thruster burn that adjusted its course by just under 1 mph toward its next target, the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69.

“One mile per hour may not sound like much,” said mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, “but over the next 23 months, as we approach MU69, that maneuver will add up to an aim point refinement of almost six thousand miles (10,000 kilometers).”

New Horizons made its closest pass by Pluto on July 14, 2015. It will perform a similar flyby of the much smaller MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019.

Read the full story from NASA here: New Horizons Refines Course for Next Flyby

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This is Where MESSENGER Impacted Mercury

MESSENGER's final path before impact on April 30, 2015 (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

MESSENGER’s final path before impact on April 30, 2015 (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

On April 30, 2015, after more than ten years in space – four of those in orbit –  MESSENGER‘s mission and operational life came to its conclusive (and expected) end when it impacted the surface of Mercury. While the spacecraft’s approximate impact location was predicted by mission engineers (it was out of sight of Earth at the time) it wasn’t until nearly a month later that the exact site was determined.

The image above shows the spacecraft’s final path and the point of impact. See a closer view of the region below:

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Here’s Your Chance to Name a Crater on Mercury!

Artist’s rendering of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury. (NASA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON)

Artist’s rendering of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury.
(NASA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON)

On March 18, 2011, MESSENGER became the first human-made spacecraft to enter orbit around Mercury. Now almost four years, eight billion miles, and over 260,000 images later, MESSENGER is nearing the end of its operational life.

To commemorate the many achievements of the mission, scientists from NASA and the MESSENGER teams at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution for Science are giving people around the world the opportunity to name five craters on Mercury — names which, once selected, will become official through the IAU!

Read the rest of this article here.

Fastest, Farthest, First: New Horizons Closing in on Pluto


It’s a journey spanning 85 years and billions of miles: humanity’s first-ever encounter with the dwarf planet system of Pluto and Charon, located in the frozen far reaches of our Solar System where our entire planet is a barely-visible pale blue dot — just a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” Launched in 2006, the New Horizons spacecraft will pass by Pluto in July 2015 and send back images and data in unprecedented detail, 85 years after its discovery. With the flyby just about a year and a half away, the excitement in the space community is rapidly building even now.

The video above is a “teaser” for the event from the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University — check it out. (Warning: may contain scenes of intense scientific discovery!) Also, watch a longer documentary below on the history of Pluto and the New Horizons mission:
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New Horizons’ First Look at Pluto’s Big Moon

Pluto and Charon as seen by the approaching New Horizons spacecraft

Pluto and Charon as seen by the approaching New Horizons spacecraft

The two bright clusters of pixels in the image above might not seem like much of a big deal, but they are… those two blocky blobs are the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, as seen by the rapidly-approaching New Horizons spacecraft, destined for its ultimate close encounter in July 2015!

This represents a major milestone on the spacecraft’s 9½-year journey to conduct humanity’s first close-up reconnaissance of the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt and, in a sense, begins the mission’s long-range study of the Pluto system.

And that’s a very big deal indeed. Read on, fellow space fans…

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Dawn Makes an Elemental Discovery on Vesta

Hydrogen “hot spots” are shown in this color-coded image of Vesta, a single frame from an animation. Red indicates the greatest abundance.

In what could be called a “eureka” moment for Dawn researchers and planetary scientists alike, hydrogen has been found on the surface of Vesta, a 550-km (340-mile) -wide protoplanet and the second most massive world in our Solar System’s main asteroid belt. The elemental discovery was made with the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND) instrument on board NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which just completed its 13-plus-month-long mission orbiting Vesta and is now heading for Ceres.
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