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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.
New Horizons has "phoned home" as expected, 4 hours after its closest approach to 2014 MU69. Its brief transmission contained no science data, but gave the scientists welcome news: New Horizons has successfully pulled off the most distant flyby ever.
Unaffected by the shutdown of the U.S. government, New Horizons is still on course for its New Year’s encounter with 2014 MU69 (nicknamed “Ultima Thule”). This post collects the latest images from New Horizons' approach to the tiny Kuiper belt object and will be updated regularly.
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.
Casey is the public face of The Planetary Society's efforts to advance planetary exploration, planetary defense, and the search for life. He is a trusted expert in space policy and works to demystify the political and policy processes behind space exploration.
The uniform color and composition of Arrokoth’s surface shows the Kuiper Belt object formed from a small, uniform, cloud of material in the solar nebula, rather than a mishmash of matter from more separated parts of the nebula. The former supports the idea that Arrokoth formed in a local collapse of a cloud in the solar nebula.
The solid-surfaced worlds of the solar system are made mostly of 3 materials: iron metal, silicate rock, and water ice. They differ in their proportions of these 3 materials, in whether the materials are differentiated into layers or mixed together, and in whether the materials are in solid or molten form. Iron is denser than rock, which is denser than water. So worlds made mostly of rock and iron have high density, while those made mostly of ice and rock have low density. Some outer solar system moons, notably Jupiter's Europa and Io, are made mostly of rock and metal, just like the Moon and the terrestrial planets. Most worlds that have lots of ice probably have internal oceans of liquid water. The largest worlds, Venus and Earth, have such high internal pressure from self-gravity that their materials are compressed to higher densities than they would have at surface pressure.
A montage of 18 of the 20 asteroids and comets that have been photographed up close as of December 2018, when New Horizons flew past Arrokoth. This version is in color but does not show the bodies at their correct relative albedo or brightness. Not included are Vesta or Ceres, both of which are many times larger than Lutetia.