New Horizons: the Coast Is Clear!

After an exhaustive pre-encounter survey of the Pluto system by New Horizons, no rings or undiscovered moons have been found.  While slightly disappointing (aw, no rings!), it’s a great relief for the mission team because it means they can worry a little bit less about debris.    New Horizons is well shielded, but the discovery of a ring or additional smaller moons could have forced the team to redirect the spacecraft to a safer path.  But as things stand, the coast is clear for the optimal encounter trajectory!  This will allow the closest practical observations of Pluto.

And there’s more good news.  The SOFIA airborne observatory has confirmed that Pluto’s atmosphere is still present, so they are indeed arriving in time!  And the spacecraft is now close enough to start making out some detail, which help further refine the imaging sequence during the encounter.



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