The Encounter with Pluto

On July 14, 2015 the New Horizons spacecraft will encounter Pluto and return history-making images of this distant dwarf planet. Here are a few resources that feature this historic event!

  • Book: Exploring the Dwarf Planets. (2015:draft) This book describes how missions like New Horizons and Dawn are created, built, launched and how they return data back to Earth. Essays describe spacecraft design, STEM careers, and a series of 22 scientific and engineering ideas that form the basis for these missions. A discussion of dwarf planets and why Pluto was 'demoted' is also provided. (Full color: 64 pages: 21 Mby) (PDF).
  • Comparing Pluto and Earth Pluto is much smaller than Earth.To get some idea of the difference, a scaled model is helpful. From the diameters of Pluto and Earth, you can even figure out how many Pluto’s could fit inside the volume of Earth. (PDF).
  • Transmitting Images from Pluto to Earth This essay investigates how images are sent from the New Horizons spacecraft to Earth.It takes radio waves over 4 hours to travel the distance, and this causes an unavoidable delay between the exact time on July 14 when the spacecraft encounters Pluto, and when we will receive the first signal from New Horizons over 4 hours later! (Interplanetary communication delays:PDF).
    (Image transmission times:PDF).
  • Pluto: The Twilight World Sunlight is so dim at the distance of Pluto that the noontime sunshine is about the same as twilight on Earth.This essay discusses how light levels change with distance, and describes the NASA resource called PlutoTime, which calculates for you the time of day when the light level near you matches the suns brightness at Pluto. (PDF).
  • Modeling the Interior of Pluto This interactive Excel spreadsheet lets you create a model of the interior of Pluto based on its diameter, mass and the densities of ice and rock. (Download .XLS file).
  • Introducing SpaceMath@NASA

    SPACEMATH: The 'M' in STEM education for science and math educators.

    SpaceMath@NASA introduces students to the use of mathematics in today's scientific discoveries. Through press releases and other articles, we explore how many kinds of mathematics skills come together in exploring the universe. [Press Release]

    • Number One on GOOGLE (space+math)
      • 35,000 visitors per month
        • 12 million problem downloads
          • Exemplary NASA STEM resource