But now you're asking, what can I do to be a part of this momentous event? Where can I watch the goings on? How can I see Sarah and the rest of the Flight Control team LIVE on television? Well, I'm here to give you the answers.
Our period of closest approach really spans from July 7th through the 16th. This is our Encounter Phase. I imagine there will be many beautiful pictures that will come out between now and then. But the actual closest approach to the planet happens on July 14th.
So, the wonderful people in our Education and Outreach department have put together a PlutoPalooza toolkit for everyone to access. Click here. On this link you will find informational videos, stickers you can print, posters, info graphics, you name it. There will be tons of these parties being held around the world; at museums, NASA centers, astronomy clubs, or even YOUR LIVING ROOM if you so choose.
The spacecraft will actually be flying past the planet at closest approach at about 7:30 am on the 14th. However, because it will be actually taking data (instead of talking to Earth) and the one-way light time (the time it talks the signal to reach us) is about 4.5 hours, we won't actually have our first contact again until about 8:30 pm that evening.
MUY IMPORTANTE: NASA will have a live telecast on their channel (check your local listings) that will include broadcasting from the auditorium here at The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory with interviews and such AND live streaming from inside the Missions Ops Center (that's me!) from 6 to 9 pm on July 14th. This is the time to watch, and have a PlutoPalooza in your own living room. (For DirecTV users it's channel 346 but you must be an HD subscriber, so mom and dad you might need to go to someone's house). This content will also be available live on the NASA website, but I imagine you may have a harder time getting in on that.
That's all I have for now. Up next time, how do we talk to something that's 2.9 million miles away? Hint: with some very big equipment.