NASA has released its most up-to-date and most detailed ever image of Pluto taken by the New Horizons spacecraft as it approached the planet at the farthest edge of the Solar System. Hurtling past the planet at 14km per second, the probe snapped more photos just before 8:00 EST this morning as it passed 12,500km above, the closest it got before heading on into deep space. This is exciting news, not just for space geeks. In an indication of just how influential social media has become, the photo was released first on Instagram, and Google marked the occasion with a special animated doodle.
The probe is now collecting data and will resume transmission to Earth later tonight, but scientists are already interpreting some of the data received. “This is clearly a world where geology and atmosphere – climatology – play a role,” commented the mission’s chief scientist Alan Stern. “Pluto has strong atmospheric cycles, it snows on the surface, these snows sublimate – go back into the atmosphere – every 248-year orbit.” NASA’s Science Chief, John Grunsfeld said, “This is true exploration…that view is just the first of many rewards the team will get. Pluto is an extraordinarily complex and interesting world.” The Pluto flyby happened 50 years to the day since Mariner 4 passed Mars, becoming the first spacecraft to take close-up images of another planet.
SNEAK PEEK of gorgeous Pluto! The dwarf planet has sent a love note back to Earth via our New Horizons spacecraft, which has traveled more than 9 years and 3+ billion miles. 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. This same image will be released and discussed at 8 a.m. EDT today. Watch our briefing live on NASA Television at: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv The high res pic will be posted on the web at: http://www.nasa.gov. This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface. Image Credit: NASA #nasa #pluto #plutoflyby #newhorizons #solarsystem #nasabeyond #science