New Horizons is a fit name for the NASA spacecraft which, after a 4.9 billion and 9 1/2-year long journey in space, flew by Pluto. It is the first time a human-made object has ever been that close to the dwarf planet.
The craft flew by the distant “dwarf” planet today after reaching a region beyond Neptune called the Kuiper Belt, which was discovered in 1992. The achievement is the culmination of a 50-year effort to explore the solar system, Reuters reports.
New Horizons released new pictures of the planet in unprecedented quality.
The craft doesn’t carry the propellant needed to fire braking rockets that would trim its speed so it could slip into orbit. Its cameras and science instruments must work on the fly.
“This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4pm EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach,“Nasa wrote to describe the picture on Instagram. “The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface.” Once snapped, the picture’s data, travelling at the speed of light, took 4.5 hours to get back to Nasa’s computers.
Below, you can see the progress in photographing the distant planet over the year.
Since New Horizons took off from Cape Canaveral in Florida in January 2006, Pluto was demoted from planet to dwarf planet, and two of its five moons, Kerberos and Styx, have been discovered .
Despite Pluto’s demotion, some still consider it a planet and have gathered the most recent pictures of all the solar system’s planetes for a spatial “family picture”.
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