An artist’s conception of New Horizons on approach to Pluto and Charon.
(Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute JHUAPL/SwRI)
We’re just one year away now from the beginning of a historic solar system encounter. In July 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will thread its way past Pluto and its retinue of moons. Launched just over eight years ago on January 19th, 2006 from Cape Canaveral, next year’s encounter phase will actually begin late this year when New Horizons switches permanently on for upcoming the Pluto-Charon encounter.
This is a mission over 80 years in the making since the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh from the Lowell Observatory in 1930. Late last week, the New Horizons team released a new teaser/trailer leading up to the Pluto-Charon encounter:
This is sure to generate a buzz of excitement as the rendezvous draws near. Does Pluto have any additional moons? Is there a ring of debris about the tiny world? What do those alternating dark and orange patches spied by Hubble look like up close? Every first time flyby of a new solar system body has provided us with surprises, and Pluto will be no different. And the mission isn’t done after the Pluto flyby, as citizen scientist scour the realms beyond searching for potential Kuiper Belt objects along the spacecraft’s path. With its nuclear powered RTG, New Horizons may operate for years to come as it joins the small cadre of spacecraft escaping the solar system to orbit the galactic plane for millions of years.
Get set to explore Pluto in 2015!
- Be sure to follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter.