New Horizons spots Pluto!

Contributed by
Nov 28, 2006

When the New Horizons spacecraft launched in January of 2006, it was aimed at the planet Pluto.

Now it's just going to Pluto.

Haha! Get it?

Anyway, it's reached another cool milestone: its sensitive camera has spotted the distant planet object for the first time.

It's labeled in that image, and yes it's only a blip (click it for an animation). The images were taken in September over two days. Pluto can be identified among all those stars and cosmic ray hits on the detector because it moves along a path that was predicted using the combination of Pluto's and New Horizons' motions. Pluto was over 4 billion kilometers away from the probe when these images were taken. At that distance (if I've done my math correctly) Pluto was 0.1 arcseconds across: equivalent to the apparent size of a US quarter seen from 50 kilometers away. That's tiny. So it'll get better from here.

New Horizons will fly past Pluto in the year 2015. It doesn't have the fuel to slow and orbit, so it'll zip past, take loads of images and other data, and then head on out of the solar system and into interstellar space.

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