We humans always want to learn more about space, and today we had a super-exciting moment: After flying for nearly 10 years, the New Horizons spacecraft flew past the planet Pluto! Built by the U.S. space agency NASA, the spaceship has flown more than 3 billion miles to get all the way out there. It was launched in 2006, sadly the same year they decided Pluto is not a major planet (the little rocky blob doesn’t have strong enough “gravity,” or pull, to suck up junk in its path. So now it’s just a minor planet). The spacecraft aimed to fly just 7,750 miles from the planet’s surface today. That distance is about the width of our whole planet Earth, but a heck of a lot better than studying Pluto from 3 billion miles away. Now the spacecraft will send us pictures, temperature measurements, and other findings, and we’ll finally know more about our fellow (minor) planet.
Wee ones: When NASA started building New Horizons, we knew Pluto had 1 moon…but since that time astronomers have found 4 more! Now how many Pluto moons have we found?
Little kids: If Earth is the 3rd closest planet to the Sun and Pluto used to be 9th, how many planets fly between the two of us? Bonus: If New Horizons launched in 2006, for how many years has it flown? (We’re in 2015 right now.)
Big kids: New Horizons will take tons of photos, and will need 16 months to beam them all back to us. When will it finally finish, if it’s starting now in July 2015? Bonus: Can you write out the number 3 billion in digits?
The sky’s the limit — for real: New Horizons also lucked out and flew past Jupiter. If it had done that at exactly halfway between January 2006 takeoff and July 2015 landing, in what month and year would it have seen Jupiter?
Wee ones: 5 moons.
Little kids: 5 planets, since of the 9 you’re not counting Pluto, and you’re not counting the first 3. Bonus: 9 years.
Big kids: In November 2016, since that’s 1 year 4 months from now. Bonus: 3,000,000,000! (9 zeros)
The sky’s the limit: In October 2010. The trip took 9 1/2 years…half of just 9 years would have been 4 1/2 years, so half of 9 1/2 is 4 3/4, or 4 years 9 months. The 4 years brings us to 2010, and the next 9 months brings us from January to October.