It will be Pluto like we've never seen it before: early next month, NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft will emerge from its slumber as it prepares for what will surely be a historic flyby of the dwarf planet.
New Horizons will emerge from its 99-day hibernation on December 6. It's six-month encounter with the dwarf planet will culminate on July 14, 2015 when the spacecraft makes its closest approach.
SciAm describes the mission:
New Horizons went into hibernation for the final time on Aug. 29 of this year. When the robot wakes up early next month, the mission team will check out its operating systems and science gear, and devise and test the command sequences that will guide New Horizons on its historic flyby of Pluto and its five known moons.
The Pluto encounter technically begins on Jan. 15, 2015. Over the next six months, the spacecraft will use seven different science instruments to study the geology and topography of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, map the two objects' surface compositions and temperatures, study Pluto's atmosphere and search for undiscovered moons and rings in the dwarf planet system, among other things, team members said.
The $700 million mission should help lift the veil on Pluto, which has remained largely mysterious since its 1930 discovery because it is so small, dim and distant. (On average, the frigid object orbits about 3.65 billion miles, or 5.87 billion km, from the sun — more than 39 times the Earth-sun distance.)
Okay, gotta say — this is going to be awesome.
More at SciAm.