New Horizons Crosses a Threshold: Closer to Pluto than Earth

December 30, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The new year approaches with New Horizons zooming past another milestone: the NASA spacecraft is now closer to target planet Pluto than its home planet, Earth.

“This is the first of several milestones over the next 10 months that mark the halfway points in our journey to the solar system’s frontier, where Pluto lies. We on the mission team know we will have a long way to go, but are proud to have brought the spacecraft to this important mile marker in our journey across the entirety of our solar system,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute.

Nearly four years after lifting off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on Jan. 19, 2006, the speedy probe is now approximately 1.527 billion miles (2.463 billion kilometers) from Earth - and 1.526 billion miles (nearly 2.462 billion kilometers) from the Pluto system. The spacecraft is just a little past halfway between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, getting closer to Pluto at the rate of about 750,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) per day. But closest approach to Pluto is still just over 5½ years away, on July 14, 2015.

New Horizons continues operating normally ­in hibernation , collecting impact data as it flies on. The operations team at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Md., plans to wake the craft on Jan. 5 for 10 days of light maintenance and tracking activities; a longer and far more intensive wakeup is planned for next summer.

This chart shows the distance of New Horizons to both Earth and Pluto. The “wiggle” in the blue line is due to Earth’s changing position around the Sun.

Meet Me Halfway

When will the New Horizons be halfway to Pluto? There’s more than one answer to that question:

• On Feb. 25, 2010, it will have covered half the heliocentric distance to Pluto from its launch at Earth.
• On April 20, 2010, it will be half as far from the Sun as Pluto will be at the time of the encounter on July 14, 2015.
• On Oct. 17, 2010, it will have traveled half the flight time to reach Pluto.

Explore further: NASA's Pluto Space Probe Begins Launch Preparations

Related Stories

NASA's Pluto Space Probe Begins Launch Preparations

September 27, 2005

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft arrived at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on Saturday for final preparations and testing for the probe's decade-long journey. It will be the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and its moon ...

NASA to send spececraft to Pluto

January 16, 2006

NASA is all set to launch its $700-million New Horizons spacecraft from Cape Canaveral in Florida on a nearly nine-year journey to Pluto.

New Horizons Gets First Glimpse of Pluto

November 30, 2006

The New Horizons team got a faint glimpse of the mission's distant, main planetary target when one of the spacecraft's telescopic cameras spotted Pluto for the first time.

Spacecraft to Pluto Prepares for Jupiter Encounter

January 18, 2007

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft is on the doorstep of the solar system's largest planet. The spacecraft will study and swing past Jupiter, increasing speed on its voyage toward Pluto, the Kuiper Belt and beyond.

Recommended for you

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

zevkirsh
not rated yet Dec 30, 2009
when will this thing be farther from earth than voyager and discovery?
El_Nose
1 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2009
ahh.. never zevkirsh .... i believe it will actually get a couple passes in so its going slower than the other two.
TheEnd2
not rated yet Dec 30, 2009
New horizons will not stop at Pluto for a couple of passes! One chance only!
Javinator
not rated yet Jan 05, 2010
"the NASA spacecraft is now closer to target planet Pluto than its home planet, Earth."

Target planet? Quit living in the past

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.