NASA observatories back up New Horizons in observing Pluto

NASA's New Horizons is getting more than a little help from its friends -- other observatories and spacecraft, if you want to be technical -- in studying what was once the ninth planet. When it flies by Pluto on July 14th, Cassini's eyes will also leave Saturn for a bit to turn them onto the dwarf planet and take photos from a distance. On July 23rd, the Spitzer Space Telescope will start gathering infrared data from the ex-planet for seven days, while Kepler's turn will begin in October. The Kepler observatory, which usually hunts for exoplanets, will focus on Pluto for three full months, measuring the light that reflects off its surface and off Charon's (its largest moon).

A couple of other New Horizons allies have already done their jobs: The SOFIA observatory installed aboard a 747 plane, for one, have been analyzing Pluto from here on Earth since June. While the Hubble Space Telescope observed the celestial body for years in preparation for the spacecraft's arrival: it even discovered four moons in the process. New Horizons has already captured some of the clearest photos of Pluto we've ever seen, but it's slated to take even more close-ups once it flies nearer the ousted planet next week.

[Image credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute]