Pluto, dwarf planet, was still under the consideration of being a planet in the past when the New horizons probe was launched on its historic mission in 2006.
The mission aims to answer all the question about this odd-ball world with its highly eccentric orbit and a large number of moons orbiting it.
“This is raw exploration, and I’m looking forward to being surprised,” says the mission’s lead scientist, Dr Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder Colorado.
“We’ve not only never been to the Pluto system, we’ve never been to this new third class of planets out in the Kuiper Belt [a ring of frozen debris and comets orbiting the Sun beyond Neptune].On 14th July the craft, which is the size of a small washing machine, will fly 12,500 kilometers above Pluto’s unexplored surface giving us the best view ever of the dwarf planet.
Till this current moment, everything that we know about Pluto has its source from fuzzy images from the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories.
“The very best images ever made by any telescope on Earth or in Earth orbit were made by the Hubble, but they’re only five pixels across.”
“If you pixelate the Earth to that resolution you can’t even find the continents, you can’t tell that there are continents and oceans in a picture like that.”
The mission will help in understanding more about Pluto and the Kuiper belt formed, and how that fits in the early evolution of the solar system.
“New Horizons is carrying the most powerful set of cameras and spectrometers and other instruments ever brought to bear on the first reconnaissance of a new system like this,” says Stern.