Countdown to Pluto

NASA scientists are counting the days until the launch of New Horizons, the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and the Kuiper Belt in the far reaches of our solar system. The unmanned, 1,000-pound spacecraft is scheduled for liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center on January 17, 2006.

Set to reach Pluto in 2015, New Horizons will study the planet's atmosphere, which is seeping gradually into space, and catalog craters on the surface of Pluto and its moon, Charon. The spacecraft also will study at least one "ice dwarf" in the Kuiper Belt, which consists of numerous comet-like objects and frozen debris that orbit the Sun from a distance beyond Neptune.

In 1930, U.S. astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered the frozen, ninth planet, located more than 3.6 billion miles from the Sun. Scarcely 1,400 miles in diameter, Pluto is only slightly larger than an asteroid. The discovery of Charon came in 1978. Because Charon is about half Pluto's size, they function together as a binary-planet, with a gravitational center between the two. Astronomers discovered the Kuiper Belt in 1992.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Mark's picture
Mark says:

I don't know if this is right not only because they might not have enough oxygen supplies but they might not even come back. I have one question are they gonna leave in 2006 but come back in 2015?\r\n\r\nthanks\r\n-mark(11)

posted on Sat, 12/10/2005 - 8:17am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

This is an unmanned mission, so there's no need for oxygen or for the spacecraft to return. Pluto is REALLY far away, and it will take until 2015 just to get there.

posted on Tue, 12/13/2005 - 9:41am
James Satter's picture

The New Horizons Web site has new updates about the Pluto mission

posted on Tue, 12/13/2005 - 9:05am
James Satter's picture

NASA scientists have confirmed the presence of two more moons around Pluto. Images from the Hubble Space Telescope in 2002 provided initial evidence that Pluto could have two moons in addition to Charon (the relatively large moon discovered in 1978). Further research helped determine the orbits of the two small satellites, tentatively called P1 and P2. Marc Buie and other members of the New Horizons science team have submitted a paper to The Astronomical Journal describing these newly discovered satellites. The surface of P1 is neutral colored, while P2 is red, but their exact compositions are still unknown. The New Horizons spacecraft mission should provide much more information about these moons.

posted on Thu, 12/29/2005 - 11:40am
James Satter's picture

The liftoff was a success! Though delayed by two days, the New Horizons spacecraft successfully launched from Cape Canaveral today aboard an Atlas V rocket. With 3.6 billion miles of travel up ahead, New Horizons is on track to reach Pluto in 2015.

posted on Thu, 01/19/2006 - 4:39pm

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