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.
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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.