Solar System -

Trans-Neptunian Objects

The New Horizons mission was launched on January 19, 2006 on an Atlas V 551 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.  It traveled to the dwarf planet Pluto, and its companion Charon, and is now headed into the Kuiper belt.  There have been a number of probes to the rocky inner planets, Mercury, Venus and Mars, as well as to the outer gas and ice giants, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.  This is the first mission to the trans-Neptunian region of our Solar System.  The New Horizons arrived at the Pluto/Charon/Hydra/Nix/Kerberos system on time on July of 2015. 

It passed by Jupiter on February 28, 2007, crossed Saturn's orbit on June 8, 2008, crossed Uranus' orbit on March 18th 2011, and Neptune's orbit on August 25th 2014 before an approach within 6,200 miles of Pluto and 17,000 miles of Charon
on July 14, 2015.  New Horizons is currently in its departure phase, and the Pluto encounter ended in January 2016.  It is now nearly as far from Pluto as the Earth is from the Sun.  NASA has announced that its next stop is a small, 30-45 km (20-30 miles) in diameter, Kuiper Belt object called 2014 MU69, a journey of almost 1.6 billion km (one billion miles) from Pluto.  It should arrive on January 1st 2019. 

You can track its progress through the solar system at the Where is New Horizons website.  The maps are updated hourly. 

New Horizons Mission

An artistic impression of the New Horizons probe arriving at Pluto with its companion, Charon, in the background. 
                     Credit: NASA
Artist impression of the New Horizons probe arriving at Pluto & Charon.
                                                  Credit: NFRANGA
The New Horizons spacecraft in the clean room prior to launch.  The nuclear power source (the "Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator" ; tthe black device on the left) is a mock-up. 
At the time of the launch, Pluto was still classified as the ninth planet in the Solar System before its demotion to dwarf planet status in August of 2006. 

Pluto's two small moons Nix and Hydra, both discovered in 2005 shortly before the launch, were given these names to have the same initials as New Horizons, as well as for their relationship to Pluto in mythology.  Since the launch, two more small moons, Kerberos and Styx, were discovered in 2011 and 2012, respectively. 

Clyde W. Tombaugh discovered Pluto on February 18, 1930, and one ounce of his ashes are on board the spacecraft. 

Pluto's name was given by a then eleven year old child named Venetia Burney (later Venetia Phair), who lived in Oxford, UK.  An experiment on New Horizons, the Student Dust Counter, is named Venetia after her.  She died in 2009.  Also, in 1878, it was her maternal great uncle Henry Madan who suggested calling Mars' moons Phobos & Deimos. 
Interesting Facts
Mission Description