Earlier this morning, NASA’s New Horizons reached its closest point to Pluto at less than 8,000 miles away. New Horizons is conducting the most important part of its mission all on its own. We won’t have confirmation of this morning’s flyby until around 9 p.m. ET.
The first pictures from the closest approach won’t reach Earth until Wednesday afternoon. Starting tomorrow, the deluge of data begins. Because of the distances involved, it will take 16 months for all of the data from New Horizons to reach Earth.
NASA did have one more photo to release to celebrate this morning’s closest flyby. The space agency jumped on their Instagram account to release the best photo yet of Pluto. (also the top picture)
“The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States,” said Bolden. “Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match.”
Members of the New Horizons team react to seeing the sharpest image yet of Pluto. Credit: NASA
Man, it’s crazy to think how far we have come. Surveying our solar system in 50 years? That’s not too shabby.
Now, New Horizons just needs to survive its encounter with Pluto and radio back home to Earth. New Horizons’ mission team did everything in their power to line up the spacecraft for a safe approach with the Pluto system. Because New Horizons is soaring past Pluto at 30,000 mph, a particle the size of a grain of rice could disable it.
We will know how New Horizons fared sometime this evening.
Today is the culmination of nearly 15 years of work. “The bounty of what we’ve collected is about to unfold,” said project manager Glen Fountain.
New Horizons already answering Pluto questions
Before this morning’s approach, New Horizons was able to answer one of the questions about Pluto. How big is it?
Scientists can definitively say Pluto is 1,473 miles in diameter. That’s a bit larger than prior estimates. It also confirms that Pluto is the largest known object beyond the orbit of Neptune in our solar system.
New Horizons also confirmed the diameter of Charon at 751 miles and confirmed previous estimates.
Today is a historic day for science. We’ve gone from the Hubble Space Telescope taking this image of Pluto.