|Spacecraft Mission Pages|
|Mariner 2||Pioneer & Voyager||Voyager||Galileo||Cassini-Huygens|
Where is the New Horizons Spacecraft right now?
If you have selected the desktop version, then 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 (nicknamed "Ultima Thule") which was New Horizon's target after Pluto and 2014 PN70 (which was once a candidate target). New Horizons successfully achieved a rendezvous with Ultima Thule - an object formed from two roughly spherical objects joined together to form a single object of about 35km long and 15km wide - on the 1st January 2019.
You can wind the animation backwards and then forwards in time to watch its launch (January 2006), its flyby of Jupiter (February 2007), its encounter with Pluto (June 2015), its encounter with Ultima Thule (January 2019) 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 you've selected the mobile version (recommended for smaller screens) then we provide a video which also allows you to see an animation of the New Horizons journey from Earth to Pluto to Ultima Thule and on.
8th February, 2019: Ultime Thule is flatter than first thought
Ultima Thuke##le has a flatter shape. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
By studying images of Ultima Thule in silhouette as New Horizons left the vicinity, scientists have discovered that instead of Ultima Thule being comprised of two roughly spherical objects, it is more like a dented walnut shaped object stuck to a pancake shaped object.
Nothing this shape has ever been seend before orbiting the Sun and so scientists have to try and work out the processes involved in creating these shapes. Article.
24th January, 2019: Most detailed image so far
This image captured when Ultima Thule was 4,200 miles (6,700 kilometers) from the spacecraft, at 05:26 UT (12:26 a.m. EST) on Jan. 1 – just seven minutes before closest approach. With an original resolution of 440 feet (135 meters) per pixel, the image was stored in the spacecraft's data memory and transmitted to Earth on Jan. 18-19. Scientists then sharpened the image to enhance fine detail. Article.
3rd January, 2019: News Update.
The following update from the New Horizon's team provides little new information other than a 3D (but still low res) representation of Ultima Thule. Not much more is expected from now until after the 10th as New Horizons is behind the Sun from Earths perspective and therefore out of radio contact.
2nd January, 2019: Ultima Thule is Red.
Combination of images from 2 sensors indicate that Ultima Thule is red in colour - possibly due to irradiated ice.
This image taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) is the most detailed of Ultima Thule returned so far by the New Horizons spacecraft. It was taken at 5:01 Universal Time on January 1, 2019, just 30 minutes before closest approach from a range of 18,000 miles (28,000 kilometers), with an original scale of 730 feet (140 meters) per pixel. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute. Article
2nd January 2019: Press Conference
(not sure why the beginning of this press conference is missing from youtube):
Ultima Thule is composed of two roughly spherical shaped objects (now called Ultima and Thule) which have joined together - apparently very slowly. This is what is called a "contact binary" and leads to an expectation that contact binaries are perhaps highly likely from the formation processes present in the Kuiper belt. Images so far are illuminated by the Sun which is behind New Horizons. Later images taken as New Horizons travels past Ultima will be illuminated from the side and will have more shadowing to allow the objects shape to be resolved. The rotation rate has been narrowed down to about once every 15 hours,
1st January, 2019: New Horizons Visits Ultima Thule.
Ultima Thule as imaged by New Horizons prior to rendezvous
New Horizons has sent back a status report indicating that it was successful in capturing data from it's rendezvous with Ultima Thule. It will continue to do some science before sending more data back to earth. Because of the distance it will take a long time to return all the data - some 20 months in total - but we're hoping for some reasonably detailed images to be returned in the next couple of days. New Horizons will be behind the Sun (from Earth's perspective) for a week or so starting this weekend which will mean no data is returned during that period, but each day there after more and more data will be returned. NASA Article.
The New Horizons team know that Ultima Thule is spinning on an axis which points towards towards the spacecraft - like looking at a propeller from the front, and seems to be spinning possibly once every 15 hours - or perhaps every 30 hours. Its dimensions are about 35km by 15km.
For other NASA coverage information, click here.
December 20th, 2018: Ultima Thule still a tiny dot... no rings/moons detected
In this set of images taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard New Horizons, Ultima Thule emerges from behind stars and grows brighter as the spacecraft approaches it. Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Laboratory/Henry Throop
New horizons is healthy and looking good to rendezvous with Ultima Thule on Jan 1st 2019. No rings or moons have been detected so it has maneouvred itself so that it passes on the planned closest path to the object. Article.
December 2018: What's going to happen when New Horizons meets Ultima Thule (MU69)
The presentation below explores New Horizons encounter with Ultima Thule (MU69) at 2019/01/01 05:33 UTC
New Horizons Engineers talk about the encounter with Ultima Thule
It'll be quick...
The rendezvous with Ultima Thule is going to be a lot quicker than the Pluto Rendezvous. It's not because New Horizon's is travelling faster - indeed it's speed will be pretty much the same, but because Ultima Thule is a lot smaller than Pluto. With Pluto (at around 2400km diameter), New Horizons could begin observing the dwarf planet when it was weeks away. But because Ultima Thule is only about 30km diameter, New Horizons will only be able to start resolving details about a day before the encounter.
It'll be dangerous...
Travelling at about 10 miles a second, New Horizons will need to look for signs of debris/rings/small moons orbiting Ultima Thule, and possibly change course if anything is detected in it's planned path. Hitting even a small speck of dust at 10 miles a second could easily destroy the probe. The later any hazard is detected, the more difficult it will be to avoid it.
It'll be historic....
This is the furthest rendezvous. ever attempted by far, and will not be repeated again in the near future. There are no other missions currently planned to visit the outer solar system. This is the first time we will have visited an object that has been in the "deep freeze" of space since it was formed. All other objects we've explored have to some extent been warmed by the Sun and so changed over time. Ultima Thule is expected to pristine material from the formation of the solar system and therefore scientifically very important.
For the scientists and engineers it's going to be very challenging....
With the pluto encounter, there were some knowns... such as it's precise position. With Ultima Thule, the position is known but not as accurately as the New Horizons team need. They will be using the on-board imaging systems to refine the position and then manoeuvre the spacecraft using thrusters as they approach. The Sun is even dimmer at Ultima Thule than it was at Pluto making getting clear imagery harder. The round trip communication time at Pluto was around 9 hours and at Ultima it is 12 hours. This means it takes that bit longer to send commands and get confirmation of success or failure, which means if problems occur it is that much harder to diagnose and fix them in a timely manner.
The spacecraft is currently healthy but it is 2 year's older than it's last encounter and the risks of failures increases. The nuclear batteries are also getting weaker. The entire spacecraft only has 190 watts of power which it must use to perform all operations - powering it's seven instruments, run guidance computers, communicate and perform thermal control.
Artists impression of Ultima Thule, with New Horizons. Credit: Steve Grivven/NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
What’s it going to look like?
Simple answer is no one knows. It's expected to be an icy body which is very dark from millions of years of radiation. It seems, from observing stars passing behind it, to be made up of two spherical objects joined together - rather like Rosetta's Comet. It will probably be cratered, and might have evidence of internal heating from radioactive materials that may have been present at its formation.
What's going on now...
Since August the team have been focussed on observing Ultima and trying to detect moons and dust in it's vicinity. Mid (16th) December is the time the team must make the decision as to continue on the current course to approach within 2170 miles of Ultima or to divert to a greater distance of some 6200 miles.
The team are also observing other Kuiper Belt Objects in the vicinity since this will be the only opportunity to see these objects up close for many years to come.
When will we get some data?
During the rendezvous, the spacecraft will be pointing it's instruments at Ultima and won't be able to rotate it's dish to send any detailed data back until after rendezvous is over.
Some early data will be sent back the day before the encounter (images only 2-6 pixels across). The encounter will occur at 2019/01/01 05:33 UTC . The first that will be heard after the encounter is when New Horizons sends back a health check. More detailed data will then start trickling back in the following days, with a hundred pixel across image being available early January 2nd.
March 2018: Ultima Thule - The nickname for New Horizons next target (MU69)
With substantial public input, the team has chosen “Ultima Thule” (pronounced ultima thoo-lee”) for the Kuiper Belt object the New Horizons spacecraft will explore on Jan. 1, 2019. Officially known as 2014 MU69, the object, which orbits a billion miles beyond Pluto, will be the most primitive world ever observed by spacecraft – in the farthest planetary encounter in history.
Thule was a mythical, far-northern island in medieval literature and cartography. Ultima Thule means "beyond Thule"– beyond the borders of the known world—symbolizing the exploration of the distant Kuiper Belt and Kuiper Belt objects that New Horizons is performing, something never before done.
“MU69 is humanity's next Ultima Thule,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Our spacecraft is heading beyond the limits of the known worlds, to what will be this mission’s next achievement. Since this will be the farthest exploration of any object in space in history, I like to call our flyby target Ultima, for short, symbolizing this ultimate exploration by NASA and our team.” Article
September 2017: First Pluto features officially named
14 of the features on Pluto now have official IAU names - most of which were first suggested to the New Horizons team by members of the public. Article.
The flight path for New Horizons rendezvous with MU69 has been decided and will be closer than even the Pluto flyby. Article.
On the 11th September, New Horizons woke from its hibernation for 3 months of observations and tests. Article.
August 2017: Pluto's next target (2014 MU69) detected as an odd shape
Ground based observations of New Horizons next target, 2014 MU69, indicate that it has a strange shape or is a binary object about 30km by 20km. Article.
April 2017: New Horizons sleeps as the team work on
In April, New Horizons went back into hibernation for 5 months whilst travelling to it's new target. The team, however, are busy processing data and preparing for the next encounter. Also it's revealed that 2014 MU69 will get a "proper" name. Article.
October 2016: 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.
December 2015: NASA release close-up video of Pluto
August 2015: 2014 MU69 is selected as the next target for New Horizons
July 2015: All you need to know about Pluto in one minute (err... times 32)
Here is a link to a series of one minute videos about aspects of Pluto as discovered by New Horizons. Warning to your brain - all in the aim of keeping each video to a minute, the science is fired at you "fast and furious"!
NASA's 3D App
To follow the encounter from the spacecraft’s 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 Pluto Encounter 14th June 2015: Images and Discoveries
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 mountains 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 Pluto’s atmosphere. Recent measurements (by watching stars as they passed behind pluto from earth or earth orbit telescopes) showed that the pressure of Pluto's 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 disappeared altogether. However the first result from New Horizons shows that the atmospheric 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 Pluto’s 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 colour 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 colour 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 kilometres) across on Nix, which is estimated to be 26 miles (42 kilometres) long and 22 miles (36 kilometres) 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 kilometres). Features as small as 0.7 miles (1.2 kilometres) are visible on Hydra, which measures 34 miles (55 kilometres) in length. Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
A newly discovered mountain range lies near the south-western margin of Pluto’s Tombaugh Region (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 kilometres) and received on Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometre) 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 kilometres). Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometre) across are visible. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
In the centre left of Pluto’s vast heart-shaped feature – informally named “Tombaugh Region” - lies a vast, crater-less 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 kilometres). Features as small as one-half mile (1 kilometre) 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 kilometres) 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 colour 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/Multi-spectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC); the colours 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 kilometres) across; this image resolves details as small as 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometres). 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 kilometres) per pixel, the LORRI image shows the tiny potato-shaped moon measures 27 miles (43 kilometres) by 20 miles (33 kilometres). Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution enhanced colour view of Pluto on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multi-spectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). Pluto’s surface sports a remarkable range of subtle colours, enhanced in this view to a rainbow of pale blues, yellows, oranges, and deep reds. Many landforms have their own distinct colours, telling a complex geological and climatological story that scientists have only just begun to decode. The image resolves details and colours on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometres). 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
June 2016: 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
2007: Jupiter Flyby
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.
June 2006: 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.
January 2006: New Horizons Launch
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.
Due to its very high launch speed, New Horizons took a very direct route towards Pluto without using a large number of gravitational sling shots to achieve a suitable velocity. The initial 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|