Pluto has come a long way since its discovery in 1930. Since being named as the 9th planet in our Solar System, and then later losing that status, only to have it reclassified as a “dwarf planet“, astronomers have always been curious to know more about the first trans-Neptunian object to be discovered.
NASA launched it’s first mission to Pluto back in 2006. And today, after nine years and over three billion miles, NASA’s New Horizons shared this image of Pluto on their instagram feed following continuous updates from the official twitter page of the Nasa New Horizons Misson with the hashtag #PlutoFlyby
We’ve finally gotten close enough to Pluto to answer some major questions regarding the dwarf-planet’s actual size and what its atmosphere is like. The mission is still not over for the New Horizons Team as they collect data and hope to achieve their goal in understanding the formation of the Pluto system, the Kuiper Belt, and the transformation of the early Solar System.
New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, says the mission now is writing the textbook on Pluto. “The New Horizons team is proud to have accomplished the first exploration of the Pluto system,” Stern said. “This mission has inspired people across the world with the excitement of exploration and what humankind can achieve.”
New Horizons’ almost decade-long, three-billion-mile journey to closest approach at Pluto took about one minute less than predicted when the craft was launched back in 2006. Because New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched it will take 16 months for New Horizons to send its cache of data – 10 years’ worth — back to Earth.
For more details about the NASA mission, check out their website here.