NASA’s New Horizons is set for a close encounter with Pluto on July 14, 2015. But, it had one more celestial body to get past first. Neptune. We touched briefly on New Horizons crossing Neptune’s orbit yesterday in our Triton post.
New Horizons crossed Neptune’s orbit yesterday, the 25th anniversary of Voyager 2’s encounter with Neptune on August 25, 1989. Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, called it “a cosmic coincidence that connects one of NASA’s iconic past outer solar system explorers, with our next outer solar system explorer.
Voyager 2 revealed Neptune 25 years ago. Next year, New Horizons will reveal Pluto.
New Horizons’ encounter with Neptune wasn’t exactly close. The spacecraft sits about 2.48 billion miles from Neptune. To put that in perspective, that’s almost 27 times the distance between Earth and our sun according to NASA. New Horizons did manage to take a snapshot of Neptune and Triton with its long-range imager.
New Horizons continues its journey towards Pluto. Right now, it’s cameras see Pluto and its largest moon as tiny dots.
What will Pluto look like? Ralph McNutt, lead on the New Horizons energetic-particle investigation, had this to say about the former planet.
“There is a lot of speculation over whether Pluto will look like Triton, and how well they’ll match up,” McNutt said. “That’s the great thing about first-time encounters like this — we don’t know exactly what we’ll see, but we know from decades of experience in first-time exploration of new planets that we will be very surprised.”
New Horizons mission extends beyond Pluto. Researchers are forming plans to try to get New Horizons near a Kuiper Belt object after next year’s flyby of Pluto.
Image credit: NASA