It already passed Jupiter, almost 3 years ago, but it will take Nasa’s robotic spacecraft another 5 to reach the dwarf planet Pluto. Pluto’s whereabouts were first speculated upon by French mathematician Urban Le Verrier in the 1840’s, but only later confirmed by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930. Pluto is 5,913,520,000 kilometers away from the sun, making it what would have been the furthest away planet from the sun, that is until Pluto was degraded to dwarf status in 2006. Such reclassification of Pluto lead to debate among professional astronomers to even users of the popular social networking website facebook, many of whom have joined groups such as, “When I was your age Pluto was a Planet”. With such excitement, it’s no wonder that New Horizon’s fly by of Pluto in 2015 will be one that is paid great interest by all those who consider themselves fans of all things space.
Considering it’s great distance, we don’t have any clear images of the dwarf planet, the way we have clear, detailed images of all the other planets. Pluto is also very small and only .18% the size of our home planet, Earth. That also plays a factor in why astronomers have yet to get a clear picture of the dwarf. New Horizons was launched in 2006, about 3 months later passed Mars, passed Jupiter in 2007, and Saturn in 2008. Despite it’s relatively small size, Pluto has 3 natural satellite moons, even smaller objects orbiting the dwarf planet, which New Horizons aims to study as well. After reaching Pluto, New Horizons is off to the Kuiper Belt, an area in our solar system shortly beyond the distance of the planets, an area mostly containing rocky remnants from the formation of our solar system. How long will the New Horizons mission last after it reaches Pluto? That’s anyone’s guess, the two Voyager missions launched in 1977 are still a go, bringing back even more information, and are now working on exiting the solar system.