It may not seem like it, but it is approaching two years now since New Horizons made its historic flyby of Pluto and its moons in July 2015. But even though it has been quiet since then, the mission continues, as the spacecraft is now preparing for its next flyby of another Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) on Jan. 1, 2019 – and now New Horizons has reached the halfway point between Pluto and the next target, called 2014 MU69. It’s another major milestone for a mission that gave us our first close-up views of the Pluto system, and revealed worlds utterly alien and unique in the Solar System.
“It’s fantastic to have completed half the journey to our next flyby; that flyby will set the record for the most distant world ever explored in the history of civilization,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
New Horizons officially reached the halfway point at midnight (UTC) on April 3 – or 8 p.m. ET on April 2. As of then, it was 782.45 million kilometres (486.19 million miles) from both Pluto and 2014 MU69. There is another related milestone coming up later this week as well, when New Horizons will reach the halfway point in time between its closest approaches to Pluto, which occurred at 7:48 a.m. ET on July 14, 2015, and 2014 MU69, which is predicted for 2 a.m. ET on Jan. 1, 2019. This is a little different from the previous halfway point due to the gravitational pull of the Sun on the spacecraft; as New Horizons gets farther from the Sun, it slows down slightly in speed. The effect is that the spacecraft crosses the halfway point in distance about five days before it crosses the halfway point in time.
Read the rest of my article on AmericaSpace.