New Horizons Approaches Pluto

After more than nine years and 3 billion miles, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is closing in on the dwarf planet Pluto. On July 14, 2015, the craft will make the first close-up reconnaissance of Pluto and its five moons and take images and measurements of this distant and still mysterious world.

The National Space Society produced a video that puts the New Horizons mission in perspective, along with some superb animation.

New Horizons, which at its core resembles a grand piano in shape and size, was launched on January 19, 2006. It passed Jupiter in early 2007, picked up speed from a gravity boost, and now approaches Pluto at 31,000 mph or about 8 miles per second. On June 14, mission engineers fired the craft’s thruster for 45-seconds to refine its course and remain on the look out for undiscovered moons or rings in the Pluto system that may pose a hazard to the spacecraft. New Horizons will pass just 7,750 miles from the surface of Pluto on July 14, 2015.  New Horizons is so far from Earth, it takes a beam of light– or a radio signal– nearly nine hours 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.

To learn more about the New Horizons mission and get updates on its latest findings, have a look at its main mission page.

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