New Horizons sure is! With just over two weeks to go before the first-ever (and I repeat: EVER!) visit to Pluto and its family of moons the excitement has really ramped up exponentially, especially considering the increasingly detailed views of Pluto and Charon that the spacecraft has been capturing on approach. No longer just a couple of bright pixels against a background of stars, the two worlds now show actual detail that can be easily discerned. In other words, things are getting REAL!
It’s only going to be getting better from here – and quickly. As Principal Investigator Dr. Alan Stern said, “There’s only one Pluto flyby planned in all of history, and it’s happening next month!”
On July 14, after more than nine and a half years of travel, New Horizons will perform its closest pass by Pluto and Charon, coming within 7,767 miles (12,500 km) of Pluto’s surface and traveling a relative velocity of 13.8 km/s – that’s 30,800 mph! It will be the first visit to this enigmatic little world at the edge of the Solar System and will answer many of the questions that we have had about Pluto since its discovery in 1930.
Data from the encounter will take nearly four and a half hours to arrive on Earth from New Horizons, almost 32 times as far away from us as the Sun.
At that point we will get the best resolution images of Pluto’s surface, with New Horizons’ six science instruments acquiring data throughout the encounter. This will be a planetary exposé the likes of which have not been seen in decades, and will indeed be the “Voyager moment” for an entire new generation of space and science enthusiasts!
And if you’re excited, Dr. Stern wants you to build the buzz!
“You can help build the buzz and will make New Horizons impact even more people. How? Tell your friends and neighbors, tell your family, talk about it at work, post about it with your favorite social media, and call up your local newspaper and TV stations and tell them you want to see coverage.”
– Alan Stern, New Horizons PI, SwRI, Boulder CO
If you want to get even more excited about this historic event (if that’s even possible) check out the awesome and emotional video below from the National Space Society and filmmaker Erik Wernquist:
Keep up with news from the New Horizons mission here, and see the latest raw images acquired on approach here.