NASA won’t see any images or get any data from Pluto flyby mission New Horizons for 22 hours after it begins its closest flyby of the dwarf planet. There are two reasons for what’s effectively a radio silence. The first reason is the applicable power. Every single resource the craft passing Pluto is capable of using will be going toward capturing imagery and data on and around Pluto. That should be obvious. We’ve waited years – we can wait a few more hours.
At this time – this morning – the craft passing by Pluto was approximately 511,758 miles / 823594.7km away. Tomorrow morning, the craft will reach its apex, moving just under a few thousand miles away from Pluto.
ABOVE: Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI, “A portrait from the final approach.” Here you’re seeing both Pluto and its moon Charon, made of composite images captured on the 11th of July. Color data is still returning to Earth, several days later.
The second reason for the New Horizons craft going dark is that the antenna will not be facing the Earth. This antenna can either send information or receive information, not both at once.
So while the craft passes Pluto, the antenna will be facing Pluto, picking up information. Once it’s passed the 22-hour mark for being “really close” to Pluto, the craft will turn back toward Earth and start sending signals with data it’s collected.
At that point raw data COULD be shared by NASA, but it’ll far more likely be a few more hours before anything solid can be presented. So we’re actually looking at a Wednesday night sort of release of data rather than a Tuesday morning joint.
Join us then – and every moment until then! We’ll be hitting the NASA tag portal for the whole lot!
Amy Shira Teitel from the New Horizons team presents the following bit of information in video form. Watch for the 9.5-year wait followed by a 22-hour wait, coming your way!