Astrometry of Pluto from 1930–1951 Observations: the Lampland Plate Collection.

M. W. Buie and W. M. Folkner. AJ 149, 22 (2015).


We present a new analysis of 843 photographic plates of Pluto taken by Carl Lampland at Lowell Observatory from 1930-1951. This large collection of plates contains useful astrometric information that improves our knowledge of Pluto's orbit. This improvement provides critical support to the impending flyby of Pluto by New Horizons. New Horizons can do inbound navigation of the system to improve its targeting. This navigation is capable of nearly eliminating the sky-plane errors but can do little to constrain the time of closest approach. Thus the focus on this work was to better determine Pluto's heliocentric distance and to determine the uncertainty on that distance with a particular eye to eliminating systematic errors that might have been previously unrecognized. This work adds 596 new astrometric measurements based on the USNO CCD Astrograph Catalog 4. With the addition of these data the uncertainty of the estimated heliocentric position of Pluto in Developmental Ephemerides 432 (DE432) is at the level of 1000 km. This new analysis gives us more confidence that these estimations are accurate and are sufficient to support a successful flyby of Pluto by New Horizons.

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