As NASA'S New Horizons spacecraft closes in on its Pluto flyby early Tuesday morning, stargazers interested in the historic mission can use a number apps to track it and even print out a 3D model of the spacecraft.
New Horizons , which launched on Jan. 19, 2006, is set to be the first space probe to make a close encounter with Pluto, capturing images of the dwarf planet and its moons, measuring its atmosphere, making thermal maps and even casting around for extra satellites.
Pluto, which is only about one-sixth the mass of the Earth's moon and one-third its volume, initially was designated as the ninth planet from the sun, but in 2006 was reclassified a dwarf planet.
The piano-sized spacecraft, which made scientific studies as it flew past Jupiter in early 2007, now is set for a five-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons.
New Horizons will use seven instruments to give researchers their first real scientific information about the dwarf planet, which is believed to consist primarily of rock and ice.
NASA and Johns Hopkins University, which designed, built and operates New Horizons, are making several technologies available to make it easy to track the spacecraft's journey.
Johns Hopkins has launched a free app, called New Horizons: a NASA Voyage to Pluto. Available on iTunes for the iPhone, the iPad and the Apple Watch, the app is designed to give users the latest images and information from the mission.
Pluto Safari is a free app from the people who developed the popular SkySafari. This app, which is available on Android and iOS, offers a countdown clock, the spacecraft's distance to Pluto in miles and information about Pluto and its moons.
NASA has developed a desktop app called Eyes on Pluto. The download, which works on OS X and Windows, enables users to track what the spacecraft is doing and where its instruments are trained.
The official countdown clock to New Horizons' closest approach to Pluto is available here. The site also tracks the elapsed time of the mission, along with the spacecraft's distance to Pluto.
Twitter updates and conversations about the mission can be followed using the hashtag #Plutoflyby.
NASA will offer flyby coverage and commentary on NASA TV, on its main website and on its social media sites, starting early Tuesday morning. NASA is scheduled to air its Arrival at Pluto Countdown Program 7:30-8 a.m. (ET).
NASA and Johns Hopkins teamed up to offer instructions on how to make a 3D-printed replica of New Horizons.
This story, "Here's how to follow NASA’s Pluto flyby" was originally published by Computerworld.