It is another exciting day for the space sciences community. After almost nine years in transit, today the New Horizon probe will be sent the wake-up signal and will prepare for its mission to Pluto. Let us hope that it goes better than the last long distance space probe...

The New Horizon probe was launched in January 2006. Once it started on its journey to the outer solar system, its electronics systems were shut down to avoid wear and power usage and to avoid the need to monitor it constantly. Since then it has been flying out towards Pluto, close to three billion miles away.

Sometime today or early tomorrow the flight controllers will send it a signal to come out of hibernation and prepare for its mission. If successful, it will send a reply which should be received on Earth about four and half hours later informing its handlers that it is awake.

In mid-January it will start to survey the planet Pluto and its moons. By mid-July the probe will pass within 6000km of the surface of Pluto itself, before continuing on. At this point there seem to be no further targets, but the teams are considering some objects in the Kuiper belt for more extensive studies of the probe is still functional after its main mission is completed. 

It will be interesting to see what new information we will gain from the New Horizon mission. The one thing that has been consistent with these space missions is that they always reveal something new and surprising about the nature of our solar system, and so we can only guess what amazing discoveries will be made in the new year.