NASA's Mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
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Computer-generated images show the location of New Horizons in the solar system.
View images taken by the LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on the New Horizons spacecraft. LORRI is the most sensitive and highest resolution imager aboard New Horizons.
Using Eyes on the Solar System and simulated data from the New Horizons flight team you can ride onboard the spacecraft using "Eyes on Pluto" on your Mac or PC.
In recognition of New Horizons' upcoming closest approach to Pluto, NASA EDGE sets out on their own parallel mission to Pluto, West Virginia. Along their journey, NASA EDGE interviews experts involved with this amazing mission, and they even meet the authors and illustrator of the popular children's book, "Pluto's Secret." Franklin talks to people on the street about Pluto's planetary status, and despite the Co-Host's struggles with basic navigation, both missions are right on track.
New Horizons Cut Out Model
Build Your Own New Horizons Spacecraft (Ages 10+)
Best suited for ages 10+, build a scale model of the New Horizons spacecraft!
Make a Model of the Pluto/Charon System (All Ages)
Pluto and Charon are a binary system. Build your own model of a binary system and see what makes it so unique! With adult help, children of any age will enjoy this activity.
Model Design Diagram
View the New Horizons spacecraft model design diagram!
Spacecraft Model Files
Build your own 3D New Horizons spacecraft model.
Below is a zipped file of .stl-formatted printable models including instructions for printing and assembly.
We understand that 3D printing often involves trial and error. You may make adjustments or changes when printing these models.
Bennu & MU69
About the Kuiper Belt
Beyond Pluto Backdrop #1
Beyond Pluto Backdrop #2
Beyond Pluto Backdrop #3
Beyond Pluto Banner Sign Artwork #1
Beyond Pluto Banner Sign Artwork #2
Beyond Pluto Banner Sign Artwork #3
Beyond Pluto Banner Sign Artwork #4
Beyond Pluto Banner Sign Artwork #5
General Mission Banner Sign Artwork
I "HEART" Pluto Backdrop Artwork
KBO January 1, 2019 Artwork
Pluto Explored Backdrop Artwork
Postcard from Pluto Backdrop Artwork
Plutopalooza Banner Sign Artwork
PlutopaloozaKBO Banner Sign Artwork
Post Pluto Flyby Plutopalooza Sticker/Artwork
KBO Iconic Poster
36" x 50" Poster
Arrokoth Flyby Postcard
Two Sided Postcard
Kuiper Belt Extended Mission Decal
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reached Pluto and its moons in July 2015, revolutionizing our understanding of these mysterious worlds on the outer edge of our solar system. On New Year's Day 2019, a billion miles beyond Pluto, New Horizons will fly past a small, frozen Kuiper Belt object named 2014 MU69 - the most distant object ever explored by a spacecraft.
NASA, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) lead the New Horizons mission in collaboration with additional government, university and industry partners.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Dan Durda
Post Pluto Flyby Mission Sticker
Maybe it was the first glimpse of Pluto's icy "heart" ... or the countdown to Pluto close approach on the morning of July 14, 2015 ... or the dramatic moment New Horizons "phoned home" to let us know it was alive and well and speeding deeper into the Kuiper Belt. If you have a favorite memory from the historic Pluto flyby, share it below! We'll consider your entry for posting on the New Horizons website and social media accounts.
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This key program develops a cadre of educators who represent the mission and serve as an important resource for Solar System exploration programs across the country. The fellows listed below conduct nationwide teacher training workshops for the mission. The fellows train the participants on the latest and greatest on the mission as well as the key educational materials and products developed by the mission team.
Click on a shaded state on the map to see a list of fellows for that state or view all fellows.
Download Images and Create! »
Download the images and learn more about creating and posting your own parallax perspectives. #NHparallax
Post your Images
Using software and methods of their choosing, amateur astronomers can combine their images with the New Horizons pictures, and post the 3D parallax products on Twitter, Instagram or other social media with the hashtag #NHparallax. Learn more »
NASA Make and Take Activity
Experience Parallax with Your Thumb! »
Since its launch in January 2006, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has flown past Jupiter in 2007, Pluto in 2015, and most recently, the Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth in 2019. Speeding through the Kuiper Belt at some 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) per hour, it's on a fast path out of the solar system and toward the Milky Way galaxy.
This spring, New Horizons will be more than 46 times farther from the Sun than the Earth, having traveled more than 5 billion miles (8 billion kilometers) since launch. At this great distance, from New Horizons' view, the nearest stars will appear to have shifted in position relative to more distant stars, compared to where we see them from Earth. On April 22 and 23, 2020, New Horizons will gather images of two of the nearest stars, Proxima Centauri and Wolf 359, to demonstrate this effect.
The shift in position of closer stars is known as "stellar parallax," and allows astronomers to measure distances to nearby stars using the radius of Earth's orbit as a baseline distance. Stars at a distance of a single "parsec" have a parallax of one arcsecond, or 1/3600 of a degree in angle. In more familiar units, a parsec is 3.26 light years. An arc second is close to the resolution of most ground-based telescopes, and as all stars (except our Sun) are farther away than a parsec, they have even smaller parallaxes that can only be measured with painstaking work. An important complication is that all stars have their own random drifts through space, which typically cause far larger shifts in position over the course of a year than the parallaxes themselves.
In practice, parallaxes are only visible as an annual back-and-forth motion of a star's position superimposed on its steady drift with respect to other background stars, and are derived from several years of observations. In contrast, observing a star simultaneously from Earth and New Horizons will instantly reveal a large parallax completely unaffected by the star's drift.
The New Horizons parallax program will:
This figure illustrates the phenomenon of stellar parallax. When New Horizons and observers on Earth observe a nearby star at the same time, it appears to be in different places compared to more distant background stars -- this is because New Horizons has traveled so far out in space (nearly 5 billion miles) that it has to look in a different direction to see that star. The small images below Earth and New Horizons show each unique view. Note that the farther-away background stars stay in the same place, but the nearby star appears to move between the two vantage points. (Credit: Pete Marenfeld, NSF's National Optical-Infrared Astronomy Research Laboratory)
This figure, by New Horizons contributing scientist Brian May, shows the parallax as an effect of New Horizons' travels deeper into the Kuiper Belt. Traditionally, parallax is measured as the Earth orbits around the sun. The two lines at left show the lines of sight from Earth to the star on either side of Earth's orbit. This causes a small shift in the position of the nearby star compared to more distant stars. New Horizons is so far away that a much larger shift in the line of sight to the star occurs. (Credit: Brian May)
Not counting the Sun, Wolf 359 is the eighth-nearest star to Earth, at a distance of 7.86 light years. The red dwarf star in the constellation of Leo can be observed in the first part of 2020 from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. It is too faint for direct visual observation by all but the largest amateur-class telescopes, but should be readily captured with electronic cameras on 6-inch telescopes and larger. Wolf 359 is a flare-star, which means that it exhibits random brief but strong increases in luminosity due to energetic events similar to solar flares erupting on our Sun. Wolf 359 has a large annual drift of 4.7 arcseconds with respect to distant background stars.
Did You Know?
Wolf 359 has figured prominently in a number of science fiction stories and productions, notably in episodes of the Outer Limits TV series of the 1960s and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
At 4.244 light years, Proxima Centauri is nearest known star (not counting the Sun, of course). Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star in the constellation of Centaurus. It is an extremely distant companion to the alpha Centauri binary star, which itself is too bright to be imaged by New Horizons. It has a large southern declination and can be observed at most times of the year by most Southern Hemisphere skywatchers, but is always below the horizon for nearly all Northern Hemisphere observers. Proxima Centauri is at a large angle in the sky from Wolf 359. The two stars establish an excellent reference pair to be used for the interstellar navigation demonstration.
Proxima Centauri can be seen by eye with moderately-sized amateur-class telescopes. It is also a flare-star. Proxima Centauri has a large annual drift of 3.9 arcseconds with respect to distant background stars.
Proxima Centauri has figured prominently in several science fiction stories, and has often been discussed as a possible target for interstellar probes.
New Horizons is 2.89 light-hours closer to Proxima Centauri than Earth, but 3.74 light-hours farther from Wolf 359 than Earth -- which means the New Horizons and Earth-based images must be taken at different times to make sure the observations appear to be "simultaneous" in the star-field frames.
Earth-based exposure times are given below. Each star is observed twice by New Horizons in case of flares by either star or bad weather on Earth. The observation date corresponds to the new moon, making it easier for amateur astronomers to locate the star fields in a darker sky.
The first Wolf 359 epoch provides visibility to the full continental United States, eastern Alaska, and all other North and South American sites. The second epoch provides visibility for Hawaii and western Alaska. Proxima Centauri will not be visible to Northern Hemisphere sites above +27° latitude. The first Proxima Centauri epoch provides simultaneous spacecraft visibility for observers in Australia, New Zealand, and other sites at similar longitudes. The second epoch is specified for South and Central American sites. Note that the second Proxima Centauri epoch occurs an hour after the first Wolf 359 epoch.
Observation Dates and Times
While simultaneous Earth and spacecraft observations provide the aesthetically purest demonstrations of the parallactic shifts of stars provided by New Horizons' great distance, images can be obtained by any Earth-based observer at any time close enough to the specified epochs. In fact, for both stars, Earth observations obtained within a week of the nominal times above will have negligible drift corrections.
A timeline showing the Earth and spacecraft observation epochs is below. New Horizons will be 4.36 billion miles (7.01 billion kilometers) from Earth, with a one-way light travel time of 6 hours and 30 minutes. At the time, Earth's orbital motion will be faster than New Horizons' cruise velocity, so the spacecraft actually gets closer to Earth during the observation period.
Where to find Wolf 359 and Proxima Centauri in the sky? Claudio Martinez, of the AZARA Natural History Foundation, Argentina, created this set of star charts. Martinez leads a team of small telescope observers that hopes to obtain images for the New Horizons parallax program.
Both Wolf 359 and Proxima Centauri are too faint to be seen by the naked eye or even with small telescopes, but can be located by skilled amateur astronomers equipped with electronic cameras and telescopes of 6-inch aperture or larger.
The epoch 2000 RA and Dec coordinates of the stars with proper motion (drift) corrections to Jan. 1, 2020, are:
Star charts of the Wolf 359 and Proxima Centauri fields are below. The fields of view correspond to that of New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which will be used to obtain the spacecraft images. The target stars are at the center of the field. Note that Wolf 359 has a high galactic latitude and thus has a sparse background, while Proxima Centauri is close to the central plane of the Milky Way and is rich with background stars. The charts are prepared for V-band observations.
William Keel (University of Alabama, SARA Observatory) has provided color images of the Wolf 359 and Proxima Centauri fields. These were obtained in late 2019, and the large proper motions of both stars (at the center of each image) will cause them to shift by over an arcsecond by April 2020. A green circle provides a rough estimate of where both stars will appear in the New Horizons images. Note that both images cover roughly a quarter of the field shown in the charts. Thanks to image depth and the use of redder filters, the images depict several relatively bright stars that are not visible in the charts.
The New Horizons team released the star images taken by the spacecraft on June 11, 2020.
Using software and methods of their choosing, amateur astronomers can combine their images with the New Horizons pictures, and post the 3D parallax products on Twitter, Instagram or other social media with the hashtag #NHparallax. The mission team will search this hashtag for the results and post some of these images on the New Horizons website and mission social media accounts.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft plans to observe Uranus and Neptune from its location in the outer solar system in September 2023, concurrently with the Hubble Space Telescope in Earth orbit. The New Horizons science team requests and welcomes observations of both of these ice giant planets from the global amateur astronomy community to enhance the science that the New Horizons and Hubble observations produce.
Looking Back: Amateur Outreach Campaigns
Science team member Heidi Hammel and colleagues led a similar observing campaign for Uranus in 2014, inviting amateurs to find a confirmed feature that triggered a Hubble Target of Opportunity observation. Learn more about that successful campaign here.
Amateur astronomers have supported outer planet observing campaigns before, producing useful data. The GIF animation (top), from images taken by Marc Delcroix and François Colas at the Pic du Midi telescope in the French Pyrénées, shows movement of the bright spot as Uranus rotated over two hours on Oct. 4, 2014. Images of Uranus (below) taken by Anthony Wesley of Murrumbateman, Australia with a 16″ Newtonian telescope with a 650-850nm filter and PGR GS3-U3-23S6M camera, show the dramatic appearance of a bright storm on a planet that normally displays only a diffuse bright polar region.
Amateur astronomers have also made valuable observations of Neptune. Read more about one of those campaigns here.
Amateur Views of Neptune
This collection of images of Neptune, taken in August and September 2013 by amateur astromomers, were mostly taken at 350 nm wavelengths. The bright spot visible in each image is located ~45°S, 10°W (measured by Marc Delcroix).
Credits: Peter Gorczunski / John Boudreau / Paul Maxson / Paul B. Jones
Having completed the reconnaissance of the Pluto system in 2015 and the most distant planetary flyby in history – an encounter with Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth – in 2019, New Horizons is turning its Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC, a sophisticated, color camera) toward Uranus and Neptune. These unique, “high-phase-angle” look-back observations will provide new insights into the atmospheres and the atmospheric radiation balance of both planets. These New Horizons observations are also geometrically similar to many planned exoplanet observations from ground- and Earth-based facilities, so have importance for exoplanet studies as well.
The Voyager spacecraft provided some spatially-resolved high-phase angle observations of these planets. New Horizons is too far away to resolve either planet, but its new observations will significantly reduce uncertainties in the Voyager solar phase curve, and will also provide red/blue wavelength discrimination not available from Voyager. These key improvements will allow accurate separation of aerosol single scattering albedo, particle size, and optical depth, thereby reducing the number of free parameters in radiative transfer models.
The New Horizons science team is inviting the global astronomy community to image Uranus and Neptune in support of these observations. Concurrent observations from Earth, even from relatively modest telescopes, can produce images that may reveal atmospheric structure on these distant worlds.
Observations of Uranus could include measuring the current brightness distribution across the planet, as well as the possible presence of discrete clouds. For Neptune, they could include characterizing unusually bright features that provide a better temporal baseline for – and even help interpret – the New Horizons and Hubble Space Telescope measurements.
By combining these data with the information New Horizons collects, the mission science team can supplement its models to reveal how atmospheric aerosols scatter; better constrain the size and optical depth of scattering aerosols; and reduce the number of free parameters in the atmospheric models.
New Horizons will address key science questions for Uranus and Neptune, including:
Results depend on a combination of telescope size, CCD sensitivity, sky darkness, transparency, and seeing.
Under clear, stable skies, telescopes as small as 16 inches can collect quality data!
Even observations made within a week (before or after) of the New Horizons and Hubble observations can be extremely useful because they can extend the time baseline for anything the spacecraft observes in detail.
The Hubble images of Uranus and Neptune will be publicly available in late September and can be retrieved from the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes, or MAST, at archive.stsci.edu. The New Horizons team expects to receive the images of Uranus and Neptune from the spacecraft a few months later, by the end of 2023.
Once you have images of Neptune or Uranus to contribute, post them on (the platform formerly known as Twitter) or Facebook using the hashtag #NHIceGiants.
Include the date and time of all images you post and the filter bandpass used.
The New Horizons team will catalog images placed on these social media platforms using this identifying hashtag.
If you would like to contribute images but do not participate in social media, you can place your images here: https://filerequestpro.com/up/uranus_neptune-campaign.
Drop images into the box (or click to upload images by clicking on files) and then click “Send.” Also include a “readme” text or Excel file that contains the date, time and filter bandpass of your images if that information is not clear in the filenames.
General location of Uranus and Neptune in the sky relative to constellations in September 2023.
Altitudes for Uranus and Neptune on September 16, 2023, viewed from Virginia, U.S. (black = nighttime; blue = daytime)
Altitudes for Uranus and Neptune on September 23, 2023, viewed from Virginia, U.S. (black = nighttime; blue = daytime)
Values in red are during daylight in the U.S. The gold highlighted lines show the coordinates used for the Digital Sky Survey (DSS) Finder Chart images below.
Note: New Horizons and Hubble have offset observing windows.
New Horizons will observe Uranus from 12:15 UT on Sept. 16 until 6:27 UT on Sept. 17 (17.2 hours).
JPL coordinates for Earth-based New Horizons-simultaneous Uranus observations.
Hubble will observe Uranus from 6:00 UT on Sept. 17 through 21:00 UT on Sept 18.
JPL coordinates for Earth-based Hubble Space Telescope simultaneous Uranus observations.
Uranus Finder Charts
Uranus general field
Uranus zoomed field (6° x 3°)
Digital Sky Survey (DSS) field center for Uranus, Sept. 17, 2023, 06:00 (UT) (10arcmin2)
New Horizons and the Hubble Space Telescope have simultaneous observing windows.
New Horizons: Sept. 22, 7:35 UT – Sept. 23, 16:59 UT (32.4 hours) | Hubble: Sept. 22, 3:20 UT – Sept. 23, 18:10 UT
JPL Earth-based New Horizons and Hubble Space Telescope simultaneous ephemeris coordinates.
Neptune Finder Charts
Neptune general field
Neptune zoomed field (6° x 3°)
Digital Sky Survey (DSS) field center for Neptune, Sep-23, 2023, 02:00 UT (10 arcmin2)