Trailer: New Horizons Gets Ready to Meet Pluto

by Nancy Atkinson on January 27, 2014

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Less than a year from now, the New Horizons spacecraft will begin its encounter with Pluto. While closest approach is scheduled for July 2015, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager or “LORRI” will begin snapping photos of the Pluto system six months earlier.

This first mission to Pluto has been a long time coming, and this new “trailer” put out by the New Horizons team recounts what it has taken to send the fastest spacecraft ever on a 5 billion km (3 billion mile) journey to Pluto, its largest moon, Charon, and the Kuiper Belt beyond. The spacecraft has been zooming towards the edge of our Solar System for over eight years since it launched on January 19, 2006.

Artist's impression of New Horizons' encounter with Pluto and Charon. Credit: NASA/Thierry Lombry

Artist’s impression of New Horizons’ encounter with Pluto and Charon. Credit: NASA/Thierry Lombry


By late April 2015, the approaching spacecraft will be taking pictures of Pluto that surpass the best images to date from Hubble. By closest approach in July 2015 –- when New Horizons will be 10,000 km from Pluto — a whole new world will open up to the spacecraft’s cameras. If New Horizons flew over Earth at the same altitude, it’s cameras could see individual buildings and their shapes.

“Humankind hasn’t had an experience like this–an encounter with a new planet–in a long time,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator. “Everything we see on Pluto will be a revelation.”

It’s likely there could be some new planetary bodies discovered during the mission in addition to the five known moons: Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra.

“There is a real possibility that New Horizons will discover new moons and rings as well,” says Stern.

No matter what, Stern said, this is going to be an amazing ride.

“We’re flying into the unknown,” he said, “and there is no telling what we might find.”

See the countdown clock and find out more about the mission at the New Horizons website.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Jeff Boerst January 28, 2014 at 2:39 AM

2015 and 16 promise to be AMAZING years in planetary sciences!!

Kevin Frushour January 28, 2014 at 4:00 AM

I’m pumped up. When this mission was in jeopardy, I wrote to my congressman (Yep, Rick Santorum.. ugh) to please make sure he supports this program. He sent back that he will always support space programs. Indeed, the program was a go. Despite my distaste for Rick Santorum I’m glad he listened. Thank you, Rick.

Now Pluto is a planet for all intents and purposes – even if it has a “Dwarf” prefix. I’m looking forward to this encounter. While I’m really hoping for (as always) a crashed spacecraft, an alien base, etc – the answer to the above “and there is no telling what we might find.”, I’m gonna call it now: Ice and rocks. A few impact craters. Nothing that will wow the general public, but damn will we be glad we got to see all 9 traditional planets in our lifetimes.

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