NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will soon introduce us to this tiny, distant world
Adapted from NASA, JHUAPL, SWRI; photo illustration by M. Telfer; background image: NASA; Earth: NASA; other planets: see below
Tiny, far-flung Pluto is about to have a visitor — at least for a few hours.
On July 14, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will reach the dwarf planet and try to learn all it can about Pluto and its five known moons. Then the probe will leave Pluto behind, vanishing into the frigid darkness beyond the planets.
In its wake, New Horizons will introduce Earth to the last of the “classical planets.” Probes have flown past, orbited, crashed into or landed on every other world that orbits the sun. Now Pluto is getting its turn.
“This is the last picture show,” says Alan Stern, the mission’s leader. “It’s the capstone moment to the reconnaissance of the planets.”
Pluto is the doorway to the solar system’s “third zone,” the Kuiper belt, an icy junkyard beyond Neptune. Far from the meddlesome heat of the sun, Pluto swims in a sea of frozen fossils