The New Horizons mission to explore Pluto and its moons has been widely popular for well over a year now. In fact, last year they even held a contest to name two of the moons, known as P4 and P5. Their new names were kerberos and Styx, joining the already named Nix, Hydra, and Charon. William Shatner’s hopes to name one of the moons Vulcan were summarily dashed, to the disappointment of Star Trek fans everywhere.
New Horizons was launched back in 2006 intent on reaching Pluto in July of 2015. During the flight so far, it stopped off to get a good look at Jupiter’s storms and snap a few awesome pics of that planet and its moons. But the photo ops it’s about to face are much more exciting to everyone waiting for the spacecraft to reach its current destination.
Now, with one year left to go, the New Horizons craft has actually gotten close enough to snap a photo of Pluto and Charon in which the two bodies are clearly separate from one another. This photo may not look like much, but it’s the very first of it’s kind. Until now, there has been no photo of Pluto or its moons from such a close distance. Within the next year, we’ll actually be able to see the dwarf planet’s ice caps and landscape. Considering we’ve only known about the small ice world less than a century, it’s quite exciting to know how close we are to getting a better look.
If you’re hoping for pics of Neptune next month, you may want to know that although the craft will cross Neptune’s orbit around August 25th, it won’t be any closer to Neptune than it was to Uranus, so no new pics can be expected from that crossing. If you’re curious about the current whereabouts of New Horizons and want to keep tabs, NASA has an official site where you can keep an eye on it and learn more about its proposed path.
NASA has given some thought to where New Horizons should go next if it completes its mission in the Pluto-Kuiper Belt. Using the Hubble Space Telescope to get a closer look at what may be out there, they think a better look at the Kuiper belt’s ice bodies, which are left over from the birth of our solar system and are about 4.6 billion years old, may be a good option.
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