After nearly a decade hurtling across 3 billion miles of space, NASA’s New Horizons probe has sped past the dwarf planet just 7,800 miles from the surface, snapping pictures and capturing data all the way. “This is the last and most detailed image of Pluto sent to Earth before the moment of closest approach – 7:49 a.m. EDT today”.
With any luck, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just made its closest pass by Pluto.
Bottom line: The high sensitivity of the big dish at Australia’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex will detect the first signals from New Horizons, when it breaks its radio silence on Wednesday. The event will be humankind’s first-ever encounter with the dwarf planet, which will mark the end of “firsts” in our exploration of the original solar system.
After Pluto, the probe will continue through the Kuiper Belt, where researchers hope it will run into another object to analyze. In the meantime, NASA has been teasing the flyby on Twitter. In Live mode, users will be able to watch a computer-generated visualization of New Horizons approaching Pluto along with its system of tiny moons. Pluto has proven to be bigger and redder than anyone imagined, he said, and the data may put the faraway world back in the primary planet lineup.
The New Horizons probe over the weekend took the finest image of four dark spots on Pluto that continue to captivate millions on the Earth. Mission scientists have found Pluto to be 2,370 kms in diameter, somewhat larger than many prior estimates. The discovery of Eris changed the understanding of the solar system and led to a new classification of objects.
The excitement for the New Horizons mission radiates out of its base in Maryland.
“This is a very alien world that we’re visiting”, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said of Pluto Monday, ahead of the flyby.
Deputy project scientist Kim Ennico, of Mountain View’s NASA Ames Research Center, who manages instrument readiness and calibration, said, “It could reveal wonders, showing us a place we’ve never explored and would never otherwise see, stuck here on Earth”.
The US is now the only nation to visit every single planet in the solar system.