New Horizons (U.S.)


Image of Pluto sent back by New Horizons.

Source: NASA

Destination: Pluto-Kuiper Belt. Launched: Jan. 19, 2006. Arrival: Summer 2015. Mission: To study the worlds at the edge of our solar system.

New Horizons is the first mission specifically designed to study Pluto and its moon Charon. It mapped Pluto's and Charon's surface appearances, studied surface compositions, and probed their atmospheres. The craft passed by Pluto on July 14, 2015, and came within 7,800 miles of its surface, its closest flyby. New Horizons captured images of Pluto and sent them back to Earth. The mission measured the diameter of Pluto (1,472 miles), confirmed the presence of nitrogen and methane ice at the polar region, and discovered that there are higher levels of nitrogen emitting from the atmosphere into space.

From Pluto, New Horizons will go to the Kuiper Belt, located beyond Neptune's orbit, and examine Kuiper Belt objects, thought to be similar to the composition of the cores of the giant planets.