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NASA's Pluto Probe Begins Observations

An artist's concept of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its three moons in summer 2015. The craft's miniature cameras, radio science experiment, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers and space plasma experiments would characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and large moon Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto's atmosphere in detail. The spacecraft's most prominent design feature is a nearly 7-foot (2.1-meter) dish antenna, through which it will communicate with Earth from as far as 4.7 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) away. (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)
An artist's concept of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its three moons in summer 2015. The craft's miniature cameras, radio science experiment, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers and space plasma experiments would characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and large moon Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto's atmosphere in detail. The spacecraft's most prominent design feature is a nearly 7-foot (2.1-meter) dish antenna, through which it will communicate with Earth from as far as 4.7 billion miles (7.5 billion kilometers) away. (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

NASA’s spacecraft New Horizons officially began its six-month approach to Pluto on Thursday, which is expected to be the first close flyby of the dwarf planet.

After a 3-billion-mile journey that began in 2006, New Horizons is finally collecting scientific data that may shed light on Pluto, its five known moons and the solar system’s “third zone,” known as the Kuiper Belt. The closest approach is expected in July.

Here & Now’s Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson spoke with Sky & Telescope’s Kelly Beatty about the mission and what is ahead.

Guest

  • J. Kelly Beatty, senior editor at Sky & Telescope Magazine. He tweets @NightSkyGuy.
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.