Cool stuff. Update Dec 31 2018 New Horizons: Countdown to Ultima Thule Flyby NASA is inviting media to cover the farthest spacecraft flyby in history on Jan. 1, 2019, when the agency’s New Horizons spacecraft encounters the Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. Flyby events will take place from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4 at the base of New Horizons operations, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. New Horizons is the first mission to the Kuiper Belt, a gigantic zone of icy bodies and mysterious small objects orbiting beyond Neptune. This region also is known as the “third zone” of our solar system, beyond the inner rocky planets and outer gas giants. First up Dwarf Planet Ceres NASA Dawn Probe Enters Orbit Around Dwarf Planet Ceres, a Historic First. NASA's Dawn probe arrived at Ceres today (March 6) at about 7:39 a.m. EST (1239 GMT), becoming the first spacecraft ever to orbit a dwarf planet. Dawn's observations over the next 16 months should lift the veil on Ceres, which has remained largely mysterious since it was first spotted more than two centuries ago. "Since its discovery in 1801, Ceres was known as a planet, then an asteroid and later a dwarf planet," Dawn mission director and chief engineer Marc Rayman, who's based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement. "Now, after a journey of 3.1 billion miles (4.9 billion kilometers) and 7.5 years, Dawn calls Ceres 'home.'" [Read more coverage of Dawn's Ceres arrival] NASA officials got a signal from Dawn confirming that it's healthy and in orbit at about 8:36 a.m. EST (1336 GMT) today. The milestone comes just four months ahead of another highly anticipated dwarf-planet encounter: On July 14, NASA's New Horizons probe will zoom through the Pluto system, giving scientists their first good looks at that faraway dwarf planet and its five known moons. http://www.space.com/28754-nasa-dawn-ceres-dwarf-planet-arrival.html Next Dwarf Planet Pluto and its five known moons NASA's New Horizons probe is headed to a place never before visited by a robotic probe from Earth: Pluto. In July 2015, the spacecraft will complete a nearly-decade-long journey to fly by Pluto, and reveal humanity's first close-up look at the distant dwarf planet. Horizons probe carrying Nine mementos. 1. A portion of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh's ashes, and an inscription about him 2. The "Send Your Name to Pluto" CD-ROM with more than 434,000 names of people who wanted to participate in this exploration 3. A CD-ROM with project personnel pictures 4. A Florida state quarter, for the state New Horizons launched from 5. A Maryland state quarter, for the state where New Horizons was built 6. A piece of the historic SpaceShipOnen and an inscription (see below) 7. A U.S. flag 8. A second version of a U.S. Flag 9. The 1991 U.S. stamp proclaiming, "Pluto: Not Yet Explored http://www.space.com/28679-new-horizons-pluto-spaceshipone.html Pictures Pluto http://www.space.com/16533-pluto-new-horizons-spacecraft-pictures.html 10 Need-to-Know Things About Dwarf Planets: If the sun were as tall as a typical front door, Earth would be the size of a nickel and dwarf planets Pluto and Eris, for example, would each be about the size of the head of a pin. Color illustration showing how much smaller than Earth and the moon. Known dwarf planets are smaller than Earth's moon. 1.If the sun were as tall as a typical front door, Earth would be the size of a nickel and dwarf planets Pluto and Eris, for example, would each be about the size of the head of a pin. 2.Dwarf planets orbit our sun, a star. Most are located in the Kuiper Belt, a region of icy objects beyond the orbit of Neptune. Pluto, one of the largest and most famous dwarf planets, is about 5.9 billion km (3.7 billion miles) or 39.48 AU away from the sun. Dwarf planet Ceres is in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. 3.Days and years vary on dwarf planets. One day on Ceres, for example, takes about nine hours (the time it takes for Ceres to rotate or spin once). Ceres makes a complete orbit around the sun (a year in Ceresian time) in about 4.60 Earth years. 4.Dwarf planets are solid rocky and/or icy bodies. The amount of rock vs. ice depends on their location in the solar system. 5.Many, but not all dwarf planets have moons. 6.There are no known rings around dwarf planets. 7.Dwarf planets Pluto and Eris, for example, have tenuous (thin) atmospheres that expand when they come closer to the sun and collapse as they move farther away. 8.The first mission to a dwarf planet is Dawn (to Ceres). 9.Dwarf planets cannot support life as we know it. 10.Pluto was considered a planet until 2006. The discovery of similar-sized worlds deeper in the distant Kuiper Belt sparked a debate that resulted in a new official definition of a planet that did not include Pluto.