Sunday, March 27, 2022

Pluto at Night | NASA New Horizons Mission

Pluto at Night | NASA New Horizons Mission

The night side of Pluto spans this shadowy scene. In this perspective, the Sun is 4.9 billion kilometers (almost 4.5 light-hours) behind the dim and distant world. It was captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015 when it was at a range of some 21,000 kilometers from Pluto, about 19 minutes after its closest approach. A denizen of the Kuiper Belt in dramatic silhouette, the image also reveals Pluto's tenuous, surprisingly complex layers of hazy atmosphere. Near the top of the frame the crescent twilight landscape includes southern areas of nitrogen ice plains now formally known as Sputnik Planitia and rugged mountains of water-ice in the Norgay Montes.

The New Horizons spacecraft is continuing its exploration of our solar system's Kuiper Belt and outer heliosphere. It is about 4.9 billion miles (7.8 billion kilometers) from home—more than 52 times farther from the Sun than Earth—in a region where a radio signal from New Horizons, even traveling at the speed of light, needs more than seven hours to reach Earth.

New Horizons was practically designed to make history. Dispatched at 36,400 miles per hour (58,500 kilometers per hour) on Jan. 19, 2006, New Horizons still holds the record for fastest launch speed from Earth. Its gravity-assist flyby of Jupiter in February 2007 not only shaved about three years from its voyage to Pluto but also allowed it to achieve the best views ever of Jupiter’s faint ring and capture the first movie of a volcano erupting anywhere in the solar system except Earth.

New Horizons successfully pulled off the first exploration of the Pluto system in July 2015, followed by the farthest flyby in history—and first close-up look at a Kuiper Belt object (KBO)—with its flight past Arrokoth on New Year’s Day 2019. From its unique perch in the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons is making observations that can’t be made from anywhere else; even the stars look different from the spacecraft’s point of view.

As New Horizons team members use giant telescopes like the Japanese Subaru observatory to scan the skies for another potential (and long-shot) KBO flyby target, New Horizons itself remains healthy, collecting data on the solar wind and space environment in the Kuiper Belt, other KBOs, and distant planets like Uranus and Neptune.

Follow New Horizons on its historic voyage at

Image Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins University/APL, Southwest Research Institute

Capture Date: July 2015

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