Trailer: New Horizons Gets Ready to Meet Pluto

by Nancy Atkinson on January 27, 2014

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.


Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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