Your Pluto-palooza Party Guide


The basics:

Detailed timeline of flyby events:

Where to follow progress:

ETA: schedule of media events at

Also, The Science Channel is going to do a flyby special on the evening of July 15th.


Party goodies:

This is an awesome desktop app for Pluto and other NASA stuff:

Space Geeking

I am terribly behind in my space geeking. Life has thrown me a couple of curveballs, and there’s been a lot of cool space stuff to fall behind on geeking about.

(1) Lunar Mission One: A kickstarter campaign by a private British group, Lunar Missions Ltd, to send an unmanned robotic landing module to the South Pole of the Moon and drill deep into the rock for a scientific analysis of the the geological composition of the Moon.


(2) Hayabusa 2 launched on December 3rd. It is a Japanese asteroid sample return mission targeted at asteroid 1999 JU3. It is due to arrive in July of 2018 and return to Earth in 2020.

(3) Orion! NASA’s new reusable spacecraft intended for future manned space missions (part of NASA’s plans to return to the Moon, and their Asteroid Retrieval Mission) had its first unmanned test flight on December 5th. It did two orbits around the Earth, then returned safely.

(4) New Horizons, NASA/JPL’s mission to Pluto, woke up last Saturday from a two-year hibernation in preparation for its arrival at Pluto this coming July. It will stay “awake” from here on out, and hopefully get some awesome pictures of the Pluto system before its fly-by. Then it is off to explore another Kuiper Belt Object.

Moar space robots!

It’s taken ten years to get there, but early Wednesday, November 12 Central European time (from about 1 AM to 8 AM, which is about 5 PM to midnight Pacific time), the European Space Agency will land a craft on a comet. Their Rosetta spacecraft got to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko three months ago, and has been in a weird jagged “orbit” around it ever since. Now its attached lander, Philae, is being prepped to detach from it.

All the pre-flight stuff is going to happen when I’m busy at a conference next week, and the actual flight and grand finale landing, if it is successful, will happen in the middle of the night. Good luck to the ESA. #cometlanding

Two videos related to this. The first is more cutesy space stuff, but it’s also part of a rather brilliantly accessible series of cartoons promoting and explaining their mission.

The other video is a short art film the ESA collaborated on that I believe is a promo for a longer, upcoming science fantasy film, “Ambition” about the life-creating chemicals and water of comets:

Oodles of Mars Comet links


Image credit: NASA JPL

This morning, I’m really flummoxed that I don’t have that telescope Santa keeps promising me for Christmas. I was out ogling the early morning sky, and it was possible to see comet Siding Spring near Mars then, hours before its closest fly-by (2:27 PM EDT, 11:27 PM PDT, 18:27 GMT). That’s day time in North America, and yet the real irony belongs to Australia, where the comet was originally discovered last year. The comet closest fly-by won’t even be in their sky at all. The Deep Space Network dishes in Europe, the US, and Puerto Rico can watch.

The comet will scrape by Mars at a distance of 82,000 miles. That’s a third of the distance between Earth and the Moon. Comet Siding Spring originates from the Oort Cloud, a cloud of comets that surrounds our sun at a distance almost quarter of the way to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri.

There are spacecraft in orbit of the planet Mars from the US, the European Space Agency, and India. They will all be ducked behind the far side of the planet during closest comet approach. But as they swing back around, they might still get a bit of comet dust on them. This has the potential to be very, very bad. A tiny spec of comet junk flying at enormous speed could punch holes right through an orbiting tin can like Earthling’s Mars satellites.

Hopefully, though, all they’ll catch are some cool photos.

The rovers on the surface of Mars will be safe due to the Martian atmosphere, but alas, the poor little guys will also experience closest fly-by during daylight hours.

Mars and Siding Spring will become visible again in North America after sunset this evening.