New Horizons Spacecraft Swings by Jupiter. Next Stop, Pluto, Charon & the Kuiper Belt

One of my first posts on this blog was about Pluto, namely the incredibly stupid move to re-classify it as a dwarf planet. For the first month of my blog, that post generated a surprisingly large amount of traffic.

Since then, I’ve posted about the New Horizons spacecraft, and the current mission to send a probe to fully explore Pluto, Charon and the Kuiper Belt.

This is just a quick post to highlight the fact that the spacecraft hit a major milestone today. According to the NASA press release:

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft successfully completed a flyby of Jupiter early this morning, using the massive planet’s gravity to pick up speed for its 3-billion mile voyage to Pluto and the unexplored Kuiper Belt region beyond.

“We’re on our way to Pluto,” said New Horizons Mission Operations Manager Alice Bowman of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Md. “The swingby was a success; the spacecraft is on course and performed just as we expected.”

New Horizons came within 1.4 million miles of Jupiter at 12:43 a.m. EST, placing the spacecraft on target to reach the Pluto system in July 2015. During closest approach, the spacecraft could not communicate with Earth, but gathered science data on the giant planet, its moons and atmosphere.

At 11:55 a.m. EST mission operators at APL established contact through NASA’s Deep Space Network and confirmed New Horizons’ health and status.

The fastest spacecraft ever launched, New Horizons is gaining nearly 9,000 mph from Jupiter’s gravity – accelerating to more than 52,000 mph. The spacecraft has covered approximately 500 million miles since its launch in January 2006 and reached Jupiter faster than seven previous spacecraft to visit the solar system’s largest planet. New Horizons raced through a target just 500 miles across, the equivalent of a skeet shooter in Washington hitting a target in Baltimore on the first try.

You can find up-to-date mission pictures and information here on the New Horizons website.

July 2015 is going to be a lot of fun.