NASA’s New Horizon probe has completed the three billion mile, nine year journey to Pluto, taking the planet’s best picture yet.
Whether you consider Pluto to be a planet or not, it has a significant position in our solar system: The edge, roughly three billion miles away. That makes reaching this world a hugely significant moment for space travel, proving we can reach our stellar neighbors or beyond. For that reason, the scientific community is incredibly excited that NASA’s New Horizon probe arrived at the distant body after a nine-year journey – sending back the clearest photos of the dwarf planet that we’ve ever seen.
“Pluto has turned out to be an extraordinarily complex and interesting world,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science. And we’re inclined to agree – this world is covered with mounds, craters, and what appears to be snow-colored mountains. Team leader Alan Stern even noted that there are signs of tectonic activity, raising all kinds of new questions about Pluto’s secrets.
The downside is that outside of this one image, we have no idea what New Horizons is finding on Pluto. The probe was programmed to cut all communications with Earth as of Monday at 11:17 pm, so it could focus entirely on gathering scientific data. If all goes well, New Horizons will resume contact at about 8:53 pm today – assuming it hasn’t collided with anything along the way.
The New Horizons team was originally aiming for a space 7800 miles from Pluto’s surface, but ended up 40 miles closer than planned. The probe is still in an ideal lighting position, but many researchers are still anxiously awaiting new results. “I have to pinch myself,” mission operations Alice Bowman said. “Look what we accomplished. It’s truly amazing humankind can go out and explore these worlds, and see Pluto revealed just before our eyes. It’s just fantastic.”