The New Horizons spacecraft (image) was woken up on December 6 as it approached its destination Pluto. The spacecraft took off from Earth in 2006 and has travelled 3 billion miles. New Horizons is so far that radio signals from the spacecraft take 4 hours and 26 minutes to reach us. The spacecraft is small in size, about the size of a piano. It was launched by the American space agency NASA. During its trip, it has been put into an electronic sleep multiple times. This is to prolong the life of its equipment. Scientists are now getting the spacecraft ready for its mission to study Pluto next year. New Horizons was woken up to Russell Watson’s “Where My Heart Will Take Me”, which you can listen to here. Here is a video about New Horizons.
Pluto is a dwarf planet in our solar system. It was discovered in 1930, and was considered to be the 9th and smallest planet. However, in 2006, it was reclassified as a “dwarf planet”. Pluto is named after the Roman god of the underworld. It is very cold and small. It is about 1,400 miles (2,300 km) wide, which is about half the width of the United States. None of us would be able to celebrate any birthdays on Pluto! The length of one Plutonian year is 248 Earth years. A Plutonian day is about 6 1/2 Earth days.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA, launched the spacecraft Hayabusa2 to the asteroid “1999 JU3”. Hayabusa2 is expected to reach the asteroid in 2018, and will hang out there for 18 months. It is expected back on Earth in 2020 with some samples from the asteroid. Here is an image with a timeline of its trip.
Image Credits: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest for New Horizons’ image, NASA for Pluto’s image, http://global.jaxa.jp/ for Hayabusa2’s image
Sources: NASA, http://global.jaxa.jp/