New Horizons will make the first-ever flyby of Pluto on July 14, zooming within 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) of the dwarf planet‘s surface. The Pluto Safari app, which came out last month, keeps tabs on New Horizons, counting its close encounter down to the second, and teaches users about the frigid, distant realm the spacecraft is exploring.
“We didn’t want to put a price on it, because we wanted to get it in the hands of as many people as we could,” said Pedro Braganca of Simulation Curriculum Corp., which developed the app.
Pluto has remained mysterious since its 1930 discovery, because it’s relatively small and lies so far from the sun (3.65 billion miles, or 5.87 billion kilometers, on average). New Horizons “is going to give us our first clear look at this world and its moons,” Braganca said. “It doesn’t get more exciting than that.”
Pluto Safari provides interactive views of the current locations of Pluto and New Horizons, lets users explore a 3D model of the spacecraft and the five-moon Pluto system and helps people find the dwarf planet in the sky. The app also features a multimedia guide to Pluto, a timeline of New Horizons’ milestones and updated news about the mission.
In a decision that remains controversial to this day, the International Astronomical Union reclassified Pluto as a dwarf planet in 2006, and declared that dwarf planets were not planets. Pluto Safari provides background on the issue and includes a poll that asks users whether they agree with the IAU’s decision.
New Horizons’ mission doesn’t end with the flyby. The spacecraft will continue relaying data back to Earth for more than a year thereafter, and it may study another body beyond Pluto in 2019. Pluto Safari will continue to track New Horizons’ location long after the flyby, Braganca said.
You can learn more about Pluto Safari and download the app here (for Apple) and here (for Android). Another free app from the New Horizons team, called “New Horizons: A NASA Voyage to Pluto,” is available for Apple devices, and there’s an Android app called “New Horizons to Pluto.”