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Nearly ten years after its launch, the New Horizons spacecraft will reach its closest encounter with Pluto on July 14, 2015. NASA and the world science community will celebrate the landmark at the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at Johns Hopkins University, as well as at “PlutoPalooza” events around the world.
Three months ago, I posted an article explaining what to expect during the flyby. This is a revised version of the same post, with some errors corrected, the expected sizes of Nix and Hydra updated, and times of press briefings added.
The Planetary Society has always enjoyed the connections between science and art, so when I saw Leila Qışın's sketches pop up on her Twitter feed during the recent New Horizons team meeting, I knew I had to share them with you.
New Horizons—what will be NASA’s greatest success of 2015—was cancelled multiple times in its early life, and many times before that in its previous incarnations. A mission to Pluto was not inevitable, despite the overwhelming scientific and public excitement.
As Director of Space Policy, Casey leads the strategic planning and implementation of the Society's policy- and advocacy-related efforts. He works closely with the Society's leadership, the Board of Directors, and other policy experts to craft the organizational positions and generate ideas about the future of space exploration.
This high-resolution swath of Pluto sweeps over the cratered plains at the west of the New Horizons’ encounter hemisphere and across numerous prominent faults, skimming the eastern margin of the dark, forbidding region informally known as Cthulhu Regio, and finally passing over the mysterious, possibly cryovolcanic edifice Wright Mons, before reaching the terminator or day-night line. Among the many notable details shown are the overlapping and infilling relationships between units of the relatively smooth, bright volatile ices from Sputnik Planum (at the edge of the mosaic) and the dark edge or “shore” of Cthulhu. The pictures in this mosaic were taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) in “ride-along” mode with the LEISA spectrometer, which accounts for the ‘zigzag’ or step pattern. Taken shortly before New Horizons’ July 14, 2015 closest approach to Pluto, details as small as 500 meters can be seen. (NOTE: Click on the image and ZOOM IN for optimal viewing.)
This recently received panchromatic image of Pluto’s small satellite Nix taken by the Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) aboard New Horizons is one of the best images of Pluto’s third-largest moon generated by the NASA mission. Taken on July 14, 2015 at a range of about 23,000 kilometers from Nix, the illuminated surface is about 19 kilometers by 47 kilometers. The unique perspective of this image provides new details about Nix’s geologic history and impact record.
On August 16, 2018, New Horizons used its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) to take 48 photos of the spot in space where navigators hoped to spy 2014 MU69. Each exposure lasted 30 seconds, the longest possible with LORRI. The left image merges those 48 photos. The predicted position of the Kuiper Belt object is at the red crosshair at the center, just above and to the left of a nearby star that is approximately 17 times brighter. The right image is a magnified view of the region in the yellow box, after subtraction of a background star field "template" taken by LORRI in September 2017 before it could detect the object itself. 2014 MU69 is clearly detected in this star-subtracted image and is very close to where scientists predicted. At the time of these observations, 2014 MU69 was 172 million kilometers from the New Horizons spacecraft and 6.5 billion kilometers from the Sun. The star that appears practically on top of 2014 MU69 is 4.56 kiloparsecs away.