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New Horizons Enters ‘Pluto-Space!’ To Celebrate, Here Are Pictures Of The Dwarf Planet

New Horizons

New Horizons spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA

After almost nine years on the road, New Horizons is in what NASA calls “Pluto-space”! Earlier today (July 7), the spacecraft Twitter account announced New Horizons is now 29.8 Earth-sun distances (astronomical units) away from the Sun, putting it within the boundaries of Pluto’s eccentric orbit — exciting, since Pluto is the primary science target.

“Didn’t get the word? We’re farther out than Pluto’s minimum distance to the Sun. We’re in ‘Pluto-space’ now!” tweeted the New Horizons account. We’ve included some of the best Pluto pictures below, to date, to celebrate.

And while many are focused on the Pluto encounter itself, NASA is already planning for what to do next for the spacecraft. In mid-June, we  reported that the Hubble Space Telescope was doing a test search for icy Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons could possibly fly to next.

That test search was successful enough, with two objects found, that Hubble is now doing a full-blown investigation, according to an announcement last week. Hubble will begin that work in July and conclude observations in August. New Horizons is expected to fly by Pluto and its moons in July 2015.

Pluto's surface as viewed from the Hubble Space Telescope in several pictures taken in 2002 and 2003. Though the telescope is a powerful tool, the dwarf planet is so small that it is difficult to resolve its surface. Astronomers noted a bright spot (180 degrees) with an unusual abundance of carbon monoxide frost. Credit: NASA

Pluto’s surface as viewed from the Hubble Space Telescope in several pictures taken in 2002 and 2003. Though the telescope is a powerful tool, the dwarf planet is so small that it is difficult to resolve its surface. Astronomers noted a bright spot (180 degrees) with an unusual abundance of carbon monoxide frost. Credit: NASA

Pluto and its moons, most of which were discovered while New Horizons was in development and en route. Charon was found in 1978, Nix and Hydra in 2005, Kerberos in 2011 and Styz in 2012. The New Horizons mission launched in 2007. Picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

Pluto and its moons, most of which were discovered while New Horizons was in development and en route. Charon was found in 1978, Nix and Hydra in 2005, Kerberos in 2011 and Styx in 2012. The New Horizons mission launched in 2006. Picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

Pluto and moons Charon, Hydra and Nix (left) compared to the dwarf planet Eris and its moon Dysmonia (right). This picture was taken before Kerberos and Styx were discovered in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Credit: International Astronomical Union

Pluto and moons Charon, Hydra and Nix (left) compared to the dwarf planet Eris and its moon Dysnomia (right). This picture was taken before Kerberos and Styx were discovered in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Credit: International Astronomical Union

Pluto appears as a faint white dot (see arrow) in this image taken by New Horizons in September 2006, nine months after launch. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Pluto appears as a faint white dot (see arrow) in this image taken by New Horizons in September 2006, nine months after launch. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Pluto and Charon are visible in this 2013 image from New Horizons' LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). It was the first image from the spacecraft showing Charon separated from Pluto. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Pluto and Charon are visible in this 2013 image from New Horizons’ LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). It was the first image from the spacecraft showing Charon separated from Pluto. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Potatoswatter July 7, 2014, 11:02 AM

    Where does it say they found two objects?

  • krenshala July 7, 2014, 12:24 PM

    You have a typo on the third pic from the end. The moon of Eris is Dysnomia, not Dysmonia.

    I can’t wait to see updated images from New Horizons. I’m sure they will show lots of interesting things that will probably take a while for us to fully understand.

    • mewo July 7, 2014, 8:28 PM

      …and in one of the image captions, it should be “Styx”, not “Styz”.

    • postman1 July 7, 2014, 9:24 PM

      Sadly, the author will Not read the comments, Nor correct the typos.
      Otherwise, it is nice to get updates on New Horizons’ progress.

      • Elizabeth Howell July 8, 2014, 11:04 AM

        Sorry about the typos — they are both fixed!

        • postman1 July 8, 2014, 1:24 PM

          Thank you and my apology for the sarcasm. +10

  • Olaf July 7, 2014, 3:53 PM

    I have been following this via twitter.

  • Pvt.Pantzov July 7, 2014, 7:56 PM

    oh man i’m looking forward to those first pics. i know it’s not even a “planet” now but i grew up with it as one and it will always have extra prestige in my mind when compared with other KBOs.

    • laurele July 9, 2014, 12:41 PM

      It IS a planet, at least according to the equally legitimate geophysical planet definition, which does not require an object to clear its orbit to be a planet. This definition is the one supported by New Horizons Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern and many members of the mission team. In fact, Stern is the person who first coined the term “dwarf planet,” but he intended it to refer to a third class of planets in addition to terrestrials and jovians, not to refer to non-planets. Pluto is both a planet and a KBO. The first tells us what it is; the second tells us where it is. They are not mutually exclusive.

  • 2stepbay July 8, 2014, 3:02 AM

    So exciting. And very glad effort was made back in the last decade to make this mission a reality. It will be quite the flyby. Also, New Horizon’s message in a bottle initiative will be part of the post-Pluto phase thanks to many signatures secured over the past year from around the world. Kudos to Jon Lomberg.

    http://www.oneearthmessage.org

  • viking1956 July 18, 2014, 11:00 PM

    I think it is great that I finally get to see an image from 2013, but shouldn’t we be seeing one if not some image(s) from 2014 by now? It would be nice if we could at least get one image per month until New Horizons reaches Pluto, since this is the 1st time we are going there (Pluto that is) specifically. It’s not just science, but an historical mission besides………..

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