New Horizons, which at its core resembles a grand piano in shape and size, was launched on January 19, 2006. It passed by the Jovian system in early 2007, picked up speed from a gravity boost, and now approaches Pluto at 31,000 mph. After travelling nearly 32 astronomical units, or 3 billion miles, the craft will pass just 6,200 miles from the surface of Pluto on July 14, 2015. As of the end of May, the craft is about 33 million miles from Pluto and gets a little more than 8 miles closer every second. New Horizons is so far from Earth, it takes a beam of light– or a radio signal– 8 hours and 47 minutes to make a round trip.
As part of its primary science mission, New Horizons will map the global geology and topography of Pluto and its largest moon Charon, determine their surface composition and temperature, measure Pluto’s atmosphere, study Pluto’s smaller moons Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra, and search for further moons and possible rings. From these measurements, scientists will try to determine how Pluto and its moons are related to the major planets of the solar system.
Once it passes Pluto, New Horizons will move deeper into the Kuiper Belt and examine one or two of the billions of icy bodies in this distant region of the solar system.
Join us on June 1 in the clubhouse to see Pluto live and get an update on NASA’s epic New Horizons mission.