Five amazing facts about the New Horizons probe
Five things you might not have known about this Pluto-bound spacecraft.
It’s the fastest spacecraft ever launched
New Horizons entered directly into an Earth and Sun escape trajectory after launching on 19 January 2006 at a velocity of 58,536 km/h (36,373 mph), making it the fastest spacecraft to ever leave Earth orbit, 100 times faster than a jetliner.
It’s now the closest manmade object to Pluto (and it’s getting closer)
Until 2 December 2011 the Voyager 1 spacecraft held the “record” for the closest approach to Pluto, a mammoth 10.58 times further than the Earth-Sun distance. New Horizons is now within this record.
Its journey is almost equal to 32 trips between the Earth and the Sun
On 14 July 2015 – 3,462 days after launching and having travelled 4.76 billion kilometres (2.96 billion miles) – New Horizons will become the first probe ever to flyby Pluto. It will observe the once ninth planet of the Solar System for several weeks.
It could hit a hidden Plutonian moon
Five known moons are known to currently be in orbit around Pluto, but three of these were discovered in just the last couple of years. Pluto may have more unknown hidden moons, or other objects like asteroids, that could pose a threat to New Horizons as it approaches.
Its mission will continue beyond Pluto
New Horizons will use Pluto’s gravity to give it an additional speed boost to make its way into the outer Solar System. Here it will observe Kuiper Belt Objects, if there are any around, until 2020. The mission will officially end in 2026.
Image courtesy of John Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/NASA