Launched from Cape Canaveral nine years ago, the New Horizons probe is preparing for its monumental flyby of the Pluto system today. The flight of the probe has taken it past the likes of Mars and Jupiter, which provided it with an extra kick of energy, allowing it to conserve fuel for later in the mission (and shaving off a fair amount of time from the mission flight time too!).
At present, the probe is travelling at a blistering pace of 58,536 km/h. Now that… is fast. I mean, really fast… to put it into comparison, a speeding bullet travels at 2735 km/h. That means it is travelling a little over 21 times the speed of a bullet- Easily making it the fastest space craft that has ever voyaged beyond Earth’s reaches.
Within the next four hours, New Horizons will make its pass through the Pluto system, collecting valuable data on the global geology and morphology of both Pluto and Charon, map the chemical compositions of the surfaces of the two bodies and characterise the atmosphere of the dwarf planet. But the mission doesn’t stop there! New Horizons is due to continue on its journey towards the Kuiper belt, studying objects it encounters along the way. It will continue its mission until it is 55 AU away from us, at which point it is expected that the probe will no longer have the power required to beam a signal back to Earth.
Keep up to date with the events as they unfold, and find out more about the mission here!