Article written: 14 Jul , 2015 Updated: 23 Dec , 2015 by Bob King
We did it! At 7:49 a.m. EDT today New Horizons made history when it zoomed within 7,800 miles of Pluto, the most remote object ever visited in the Solar System. I thought you’d like to see our best view yet of Pluto in this last and sharpest image taken before closest approach. The level of detail is fantastic.
Universe Today’s Ken Kremer is on the scene at mission control, and we’ll have much more news and analysis for you later today. For now, here’s a taste.
Members of NASA’s New Horizons team react to seeing the latest image of Pluto. Credit: NASA
Pluto encounter July 14th 11:00-12:00 UTC (6:00am CDT) by Tom Ruen
Efrain Morales created this fine document of the Pluto encounter by combining the recent New Horizons photo with images taken through his telescope about 6 1/2 hours before closest approach. Images taken on July 10 and 11 show Pluto’s slow crawl across the starfield. Credit: Efrain Morales
To give you a better idea of how small New Horizons’ targets are, this graphic shows Pluto and Charon as they would appear if placed slightly above Earth’s surface and viewed from a great distance. Recent measurements obtained by New Horizons indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 1,473 miles (2370 km, making it the largest known Kuiper Belt object, while Charon has a diameter of 751 miles (1208 km). Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
Pluto has a very complex surface. The fact that large areas show few craters – as compared to say, Ceres or Vesta – shows that there have relatively recent changes there. Maybe very recent. Alan Stern, principal investigator for the mission, was asked by a report at this morning’s press conference if it snows on Pluto. His answer: “It sure looks like it.”
Mission principal investigator has reason to smile this morning during the press conference. So far, New Horizons is doing well. Credit: NASA-TV
Stern is also confident the spacecraft survived closest approach without getting bulleted by dust. We should know tonight when it “phones home” around 9 p.m. EDT.
Even Rosetta couldn’t resist a look at Pluto. On July 12, the spacecraft took many images of the distant world which were stacked to create the photos above. Left: The unprocessed image is obscured by dust grains in Comet 67P/C-G’s coma. Middle: Pluto’s background of stars as seen from Rosetta. Right: The processed image shows Pluto as a bright spot within the blue circle. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
With the Pluto flyby the latest achievement in over 50 years of humankind’s exploration of the Solar System’s wild assortment of moons, planets and comets, see the bounty of our efforts in this wonderful compendium titled From Pluto to the Sun by Jon Keegan, Chris Canipe and Alberto Cervantes.
By Bob King
I'm a long-time amateur astronomer and member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO). My observing passions include everything from auroras to Z Cam stars. I also write a daily astronomy blog called Astro Bob. My new book, "Night Sky with the Naked Eye", a guide to the wonders of the night using only your eyes, is now available on Amazon and BN as well as in local BN bookstores.