New Horizons will reach Pluto on July 14 after completing a journey taking nine years and travelling more than 4.8 billion kilometres. The NASA spacecraft will reach a distance of almost 12,500 kilometres from the dwarf planet, inside the orbit of the five known moons of the system.
“Every day we break a new distance record to Pluto, and every day our data get better,” New Horizons’ principal Investigator Alan Stern said on the mission’s website.
“Nothing like this kind of frontier, outer solar system exploration has happened since Voyager 2 was at Neptune way back in 1989. It’s exciting - come and watch as New Horizons turns points of light into a newly explored planetary system and its moons!”
As of June 12-13, the spacecraft’s thrusters have fired for 45 seconds in order to maneuver the spacecraft into the correct trajectory. Radio transmissions from New Horizons take 4.5 hours to reach Earth.
The latest observations of May 29-30 and June 4 showed that the Pluto system consists of the planet and its five moons, Charon, Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx, but that there no rings or undiscovered moons.
In the last week of June New Horizons will begin its final phase, when the spacecraft’s trajectory adjusts for a close approach.
Although Pluto was discovered in the 1930s by Clyde Tombaugh, its fifth moon Styx was identified only recently in 2012.
“We know very little about the Pluto system now. It's really a mission of … flying into the unknown to see what's there,” Stern said.