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EarthSky // Science Wire, Space Release Date: Aug 25, 2014

Pluto-bound New Horizons crosses Neptune’s orbit

NASA says this is New Horizons’ last major crossing en route to becoming the first probe to make a close encounter with distant Pluto on July 14, 2015.

Neptune and Triton, as captured by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 10, 2014, about one year before its planned 2015 Pluto encounter.  New Horizons crosses Neptune's orbit on August 25, 2014.

Neptune and Triton, as captured by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 10, 2014, about one year before its planned 2015 Pluto encounter. New Horizons crosses Neptune’s orbit on August 25, 2014. Image via NASA / JHU / APL New Horizons spacecraft.

On August 25, 2014, the Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft is crossing the orbit of the 8th planet in our solar system, Neptune. NASA says this is New Horizons’ last major crossing en route to becoming the first probe to make a close encounter with distant Pluto on July 14, 2015. While traveling toward Pluto earlier this summer, New Horizons spacecraft imaged the very distant Neptune and Triton using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera from a distance of 3.957 billion kilometers / 2.457 billion miles. Triton is visible at the 10 o’clock position in relation to Neptune.

New Horizons, which has been traveling through space en route to Pluto since January 2006, reached Neptune’s orbit in what NASA says is “a record eight years and eight months.”

New Horizons’ milestone matches precisely the 25th anniversary of Voyager 2’s historic sweep closest to Neptune on August 25, 1989.

Ralph McNutt of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, who leads the New Horizons energetic-particle investigation and also served on the Voyager mission team, said:

The feeling 25 years ago was that this was really cool, because we’re going to see Neptune and Triton up-close for the first time. The same is happening for New Horizons. Even this summer, when we’re still a year out and our cameras can only spot Pluto and its largest moon as dots, we know we’re in for something incredible ahead.

Read more about New Horizons’ crossing Neptune’s orbit, from NASA

Neptune and Triton as seen by New Horizons.

Neptune and Triton as seen by New Horizons. Image via NASA / JHU / APL New Horizons spacecraft.

Follow New Horizons on the final leg of its long journey to Pluto via Where Is New Horizons? from Johns Hopkins University.

Follow New Horizons on the final leg of its long journey to Pluto via Where Is New Horizons? from Johns Hopkins University.

Bottom line: New Horizons crosses Neptune’s orbit on August 25, 2014. NASA says this is New Horizons’ last major crossing en route to becoming the first probe to make a close encounter with distant Pluto on July 14, 2015.