After 9 years and 3 billion miles of flying through the solar system, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft completed its flyby of Pluto today. It has sent home beautiful photos of Pluto and its moon Charon, although the colors shown here by NASA have been exaggerated for contrast.
“These images show that Pluto and Charon are truly complex worlds. There’s a whole lot going on here,” said New Horizons co-investigator Will Grundy, Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona. “Our surface composition team is working as fast as we can to identify the substances in different regions on Pluto and unravel the processes that put them where they are.”
There is anxiety as New Horizons gets closer to Pluto for the historic flyby–worries of collision chief among them. Hopefully all will go well. Until now New Horizons has not disappointed. New Horizons was launched in 2006. The spacecraft is the size of a grand piano and it runs on just 200 watts of power, generated from the heat of 24 pounds of radioactive plutonium dioxide.
We now can see the entire “heart” of Pluto. And there’s a surprise–the heart is made of two distinct parts, a beigish-pink western section and an eastern section that looks blue with reddish-brown spots.
The images will only get better, scientists hope, as New Horizons gets even closer to Pluto. However, there’s a nail-biting wait until then. The spacecraft is so busy collecting data that it hasn’t had time to send more pictures back home. It is expected to remain silent until 9 ET tonight.
While we wait eagerly for tomorrow, here’s this morning’s New Horizons mission update from NASA