Distances like "3 billion miles" are well beyond the scale of anything we experience here on Earth (the circumference of our planet is a mere 25,000 miles). So we made this video to help make sense of the immense journey that the New Horizons spacecraft has traveled over the past 9 years:
In the 1960s and '70s, NASA's Mariner missions showed us Mars, Venus, and Mercury, and in the 1970s and '80s, the Voyager missions showed us Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus. In much the same way, New Horizons will give us a close-up view of Pluto for the first time on July 14.
New Horizons launched from Cape Canaveral in January 2006. At that time, Pluto hadn't yet officially been demoted from planet to dwarf planet, and the mission was initially billed as a visit to the solar system's only unexplored planet. That's not the only thing that has changed here on Earth since the launch. Two of Plutos five known moons (Kerberos and Styx) have also been discovered since then.
New Horizons will pass within 6,200 miles of Pluto on July 14th. Until this mission, Voyager 1 was the spacecraft that flew closest to Pluto, and New Horizons will be 158,000 times closer than that. It will return detailed images of Pluto and its moons, far better than the blurry pictures our telescopes have managed.
The images won't be available immediately though. The data will travel billions of miles over radiowaves and then undergo processing. Check back at Vox.com for coverage of the flyby and all the images as they come in.