NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
New Horizons is gathering a range of planetary science data that only a spacecraft in the Kuiper Belt could collect. With its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), New Horizons continues to observe both dwarf planets and smaller Kuiper Belt objects (KBOs) from afar to study their moons, their shapes and rotation periods and pole positions, and their surface characteristics in ways that cannot be studied from Earth or Earth orbit.
What is a hot classical Kuiper Belt object? What about a cold classical KBO? Find out here.
By early 1930, Lowell Observatory junior astronomer Clyde Tombaugh had spent months poring over hundreds of telescopic photo plates in the search for a single moving object – which would turn out to be Pluto, the ninth planet.
Nearly a century later, the team that famously explored the planet Tombaugh discovered is expanding its own search for additional targets of discovery – and doing it with technology that would have astounded Tombaugh. Read how.
From its unique perch in the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons can observe planets and other bodies at angles and distances like no other spacecraft or telescope on Earth. Using its Ralph imager, New Horizons is building on long-distance 2019 observations it made of Uranus and Neptune to provide new insight into the atmospheres of each of these planets.
Specifically, New Horizons will build on Voyager's observations of Uranus and Neptune, seeing them at unique geometries, in longer wavelengths and through new seasons that Voyager could not. New Horizons will also complement Hubble Space Telescope observations of each world, particularly on studies of the planets' atmospheres and the transfer of heat from their rocky cores through their gaseous exteriors. Aside from a science return better than either New Horizons or Hubble could provide on its own, the activity sets the stage for observations of similar ice giant planets around other stars.
New Horizons’ long-distance observations of Uranus (top left) and Neptune (bottom left) offer looks at each planet under unique lighting conditions (simulated top and bottom right). (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/SwRI)
The solar system is surrounded by a disk of dust left over from its formation. New Horizons' Student Dust Counter (SDC) is making the first measurement of this radial dust distribution, providing insights into planetaryformation in our solar system and around other stars.
The solar system is surrounded by a disk of dust left over from its formation. Its structure provides insights into the formation of our solar system and others. However, only simulations of its large-scale structure exist. New Horizons' Student Dust Counter is making the first measurement of radial dust distribution. This illustration depicts the distribution of dust particles larger than 100 micrometers across the solar system, measured by astronomical units (au) from the Sun. (Credit: Poppe et al., 2019)