MOSCOW, August 26 (RIA Novosti) - NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has crossed the orbit of Neptune, the last major traversing on its way to distant dwarf planet, the Agency’s press release said Monday.
The Agency says its piano-sized spacecraft, launched in January 2006, has reached Neptune’s orbit, which is approximately 4,42 billion kilometers from Earth “in a record eight years and eight months.”
The traversing comes precisely on the 25th anniversary of the previous encounter with Neptune; when NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft became the first ever probe to visit it on August 25, 1989.
“It’s a cosmic coincidence that connects one of NASA’s iconic past outer solar system explorers, with our next outer solar system explorer,” the press release quotes Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Exactly 25 years ago at Neptune, Voyager 2 delivered our ‘first’ look at an unexplored planet. Now it will be New Horizons' turn to reveal the unexplored Pluto and its moons in stunning detail next summer on its way into the vast outer reaches of the solar system.”
The Space Agency says New Horizons spacecraft now is about 3.99 billion kilometers from Neptune, which, it says, is nearly 27 times the distance between the Earth and our sun.
Although the spacecraft will be much farther from the planet than Voyager 2’s closest approach, New Horizons' telescopic camera was able to obtain several long-distance “approach” shots of Neptune on July 10.
New Horizons is expected to make a close encounter with Pluto on July 14, 2015.