What Is the Mission of the New Horizons Probe?


Quick Answer

The main mission of the New Horizons probe is to study the dwarf planet Pluto, its moons and similar celestial bodies called Kuiper belt objects. New Horizons fulfills the role of the Pluto Kuiper Explorer, an earlier NASA Pluto mission that was never launched.

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Full Answer

While the Hubble Space Telescope provided low-resolution images of Pluto and its moons, New Horizons was created to collect much more detailed information. The probe was launched on a NASA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 19, 2006. Because of the length of its journey, New Horizons was launched at an extremely high speed, and it reached lunar orbit only 9 hours after it left Earth's atmosphere.

The New Horizons probe successfully accomplished its main mission objective in July 2015, when it conducted surveys of Pluto and produced the first high-resolution photographs of the dwarf planet's surface. The spacecraft also took photographs of Charon, Pluto's largest moon, as well as the smaller moons Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.

While not part of its main mission, New Horizons also gathered information on Jupiter and its four largest moons. The spacecraft entered Jupiter's area of the solar system to get a gravitational boost from the planet, and it collected photographs and other scientific data while it was there. New Horizons also took detailed photographs of volcanic eruptions on Io, Jupiter's closest moon.

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