|Spacecraft Mission Pages|
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Where is the New Horizons Spacecraft right now?
The app above shows you where the New Horizons Spacecraft is today, right this moment, in an interactive animation. It also shows the position of Pluto and also two Kuiper Belt Objects, 2014 MU69 which is New Horizon's next target and 2014 PN70 (which was a candidate target). New Horizons completed some manoeuvres in October/November 2015 in order to achieve a rendezvous with 2014 MU69 (an approximately 45km diameter object) around the 31st December 2018 or 1st January 2019 (the position of 2014 MU69 still needs refining). NASA Release. Article.
The rendezvous with 2014 MU69 will be an historic event although the fact that it will all be going on with the Sun sitting in between the earth and New Horizons probably means we may well have to wait quite a while - longer than we did with Pluto - for the first pictures.
You can wind the animation backwards in time to watch its launch and its flyby of Jupiter, and forwards to watch its encounter with Pluto and beyond. You can stop it at any time to see its position and the position of the planets during its flight. The 2D/3D button shows planets or New horizons on "3D" stalks to represent the distance above or below the plane of the ecliptic.
If your browser doesn't support flash then we provide a video which also allows you to see an animation of the New Horizons journey from Earth to Pluto and on.
Last of the Pluto Data Returned
On October 25th 2016, New horizons sent the last of the 50 plus GB of data recorded during it's Pluto fly-by in 2015. The spacecraft can only send data at between 1000 and 4000 bits per second, and only can do so when the deep space network is available, which is why it has taken this long to get all the data back. See this video explaining the delay. Article.
NASA release close-up video of Pluto (December 2015)
NASA's 3D App
To follow the encounter from the spacecrafts view, why not download the NASA App, select the New Horizons from the Tours & Features options and see how New Horizons scans Pluto and its moons throughout the fly-by.
New Horizons images
New Horizons discovers flowing ices in Pluto’s heart-shaped feature. In the northern region of Pluto’s Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), swirl-shaped patterns of light and dark suggest that a surface layer of exotic ices has flowed around obstacles and into depressions, much like glaciers on Earth. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI. Click for full story.
The left side of heart shaped region on Pluto appears to be a huge glacier made of nitrogen and other frozen gasses. It can be seen flowing around mountians and other features at its edge and even flows through breaches in the walls of ancient craters to fill or part fill the interiors. Scientist are suggesting that the polygonal shapes seen in the ice may possibly be due to a convection processes where warmer material is welling up from deep below.
Shown below is the southern edge of the glacier:
New Horizons detected a few surprises to do with Plutos atmosphere. Recent measurements (by watching stars as they passed behind pluto from earth or earth orbit telescopes) showed that the pressure of plutos atmosphere has been steadily increasing - against scientific understanding that thought as pluto got further from the sun its pressure should drop. Indeed the team were in a hurry to get New Horizons launched before the atmosphere dissappeared altogether. However the first result from New Horizons shows that the atmopheric pressure has dropped to approximately half the last measurement. Perhaps New Horizons got to pluto just as its atmosphere is collapsing as it goes into deep freeze or something else is happening. Full Story.
Also, as seen in the above image, New Horizons detected hazing in Plutos atmosphere at 52 miles high and 31 miles high. Again these layers were not expected and are not understood. The haze occurs when methane gas is broken down by sunlight and causes more complex molecules such as ethylene and acetylene to be created. These hydrocarbons then freeze and form tiny particles that slowly fall to the surface and are visible as a haze. Full Story.
New Horizons scientists use enhanced color images to detect differences in the composition and texture of Pluto’s surface. It can be clearly seen that the nitrogen glacier in the left of the heart shape differs from the material in the right. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI. Click for full story.
Pluto's moon Nix (left), shown here in enhanced color as imaged by the New Horizons Ralph instrument, has a reddish spot that has attracted the interest of mission scientists. The data were obtained on the morning of July 14, 2015, and received on the ground on July 18. At the time the observations were taken New Horizons was about 102,000 miles (165,000 km) from Nix. The image shows features as small as approximately 2 miles (3 kilometers) across on Nix, which is estimated to be 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) wide. Pluto's small, irregularly shaped moon Hydra (right) is revealed in this black and white image taken from New Horizons' LORRI instrument on July 14, 2015 from a distance of about 143,000 miles (231,000 kilometers). Features as small as 0.7 miles (1.2 kilometers) are visible on Hydra, which measures 34 miles (55 kilometers) in length. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain. This image was acquired by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and received on Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. Click for full story. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
Animated Flyover of Pluto’s Icy Mountain and Plains
This simulated flyover of Pluto’s Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) and Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain) was created from New Horizons closest-approach images. Norgay Montes have been informally named for Tenzing Norgay, one of the first two humans to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Sputnik Planum is informally named for Earth’s first artificial satellite. The images were acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers). Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
In the center left of Pluto’s vast heart-shaped feature – informally named “Tombaugh Regio” - lies a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains and has been informally named Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), after Earth’s first artificial satellite. The surface appears to be divided into irregularly-shaped segments that are ringed by narrow troughs. Features that appear to be groups of mounds and fields of small pits are also visible. This image was acquired by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers). Features as small as one-half mile (1 kilometer) across are visible. The blocky appearance of some features is due to compression of the image. Click for full story. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body. The close-up image was taken about 1.5 hours before New Horizons closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 478,000 miles (770,000 kilometers) from the surface of the planet. The image easily resolves structures smaller than a mile across. Click for full story. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution, enhanced color view of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, just before closest approach on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft's Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC); the colors are processed to best highlight the variation of surface properties across Charon. Scientists have learned that reddish material in the north (top) polar region – informally named Mordor Macula – is chemically processed methane that escaped from Pluto’s atmosphere onto Charon. Charon is 754 miles (1,214 kilometers) across; this image resolves details as small as 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers). Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Since its discovery in 2005, Pluto's moon Hydra has been known only as a fuzzy dot of uncertain shape, size, and reflectivity. Imaging obtained during New Horizons' historic transit of the Pluto-Charon system and transmitted to Earth has definitively resolved these fundamental properties of Pluto's outermost moon. Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) observations revealed an irregularly shaped body characterized by significant brightness variations over the surface. With a resolution of 2 miles (3 kilometers) per pixel, the LORRI image shows the tiny potato-shaped moon measures 27 miles (43 kilometers) by 20 miles (33 kilometers). Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). Pluto’s surface sports a remarkable range of subtle colors, enhanced in this view to a rainbow of pale blues, yellows, oranges, and deep reds. Many landforms have their own distinct colors, telling a complex geological and climatological story that scientists have only just begun to decode. The image resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers). The viewer is encouraged to zoom in on the full resolution image on a larger screen to fully appreciate the complexity of Pluto’s surface features. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Pluto and Charon (8th July). Click for full story. Credits: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI
On the Lighter Side...
Sorry... But this just had to be done! - Click for larger version
Here is a quick list of other articles covering some important discoveries from New Horizons.
They have been listed here since it is sometimes hard to find these news stories on the NASA sites a week or so after the event.
- Frozen Carbon Monoxide in Pluto’s 'Heart'
- Ions Stream Out Behind Pluto
- Methane and Nitrogen Ice Variations
- New Horizons Reveals Pluto's Extended Atmosphere
- New Horizons Close-Up of Charon’s ‘Mountain in a Moat’
New Horizons path through the Plutonian System
To see the journey of New Horizons as it passed through the Plutonian system, click here.
New Horizons Spacecraft
New Horizons - Spacecraft and Pluto Encounter
Watch this NASA video for a summary of spacecraft features and find out some of its activities at closest approach:
Video Chapter Guide:
- 00:00 - 03:40: Introduction
- 03:40 - 08:48: Operations Update - what the team are doing, how to communicate with the craft, why comms are impossible when taking observations
- 08:48 - 11:20: Science Update - brief discussion of image data collected and to be collected (filmed June 16).
- 11:20 - 13:45: Flyby - What the spacecraft will be doing at closest approach
- 13:45 - 24:40: The spacecraft - its design and a detailed review of its instruments.
As an alternative to the video, a technical description of the instruments can be found at this John Hopkins page.
- 24:40 - 26:00: How far can New Horizons go?
- 26:00 - 27:34: "Pluto time" - social interaction stuff
New Horizons Flight Path
New Horizons was launched on 19th January 2006 directly into an Earth-and-Solar-escape trajectory. It had the highest launch velocity of any man made object at over 16km/s relative to earth.
Asteroid 132524 APL
In June of 2006, it was realised that the spacecraft was going to pass relatively close (100,000 km) to a small asteroid called 132524 APL. This asteroid was imaged by the space probe (as a small dot) and found, amongst many other new observations, to be about 2.5km across.
The probe began studying Jupiter and its moons in detail from January until June of 2007. Its closest approach at the end of February was 2.3 million km from the planet. The fly-by increased New Horizons velocity by 4 km/s allowing it to reduce its journey to Pluto by 3 years.
During the fly-by New Horizons was able to study Jupiter's atmosphere and faint ring system in detail including imaging "the little red spot" in more detail than ever before.
New Horizons flight path did not take it near any of the major Jovian moons, but its sensors being designed to image small objects in low light levels were able to obtain impressive images of volcanic eruptions on Io amongst other interesting observations. Below is a New Horizons animation showing eruptions on IO.
Due to its very high launch speed, New Horizons has been able to take a very direct route towards Pluto without using a large number of gravitational sling shots to achieve a suitable velocity. The schedule of its mission is listed below:
|Earth, Launch||19 January 2006|
|132524 APL, Flyby||13 June 2006|
|Jupiter, Flyby||28 Feb 2007|
|Pluto, Flyby||14 June 2015|
|Observe other KBOs||2016-2020|
|End of Mission||2026|