Being 2015, there has been a lot of talk about the New Horizons spacecraft in the first month of the year, since it’s due to reach it’s rendezvous with the enigmatic dwarf planet in July. I remember watching the launch in 2006 while in university, and have been talking about it to audiences during my planetarium shows. I feel close to the mission, and being able to see it reach Pluto this year brings back the first feelings I ever had about discovering the universe as a child.
So when the spacecraft woke up a few weeks ago, so did my curiosity.
Yesterday, the new horizons team released the first pictures of Pluto, as a birthday present of sorts for Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the icy world in 1930. At that time, who would have thought that only 85 years later we would be visiting the tiny dot of light hidden among the stars.
The photos aren’t fantastic by a photographer’s standards, but for an astronomer, it’s amazing to start seeing Pluto and Charon as actual bodies and not just as tiny points of light. The pictures haven’t yet beaten the Hubble photo of Pluto for best yet, but as the spacecraft slowly approaches Pluto and closes the 200 Million Km gap, we will get an approach view like no other. For those who imagine 200 Million Km to be a large distance, consider the fact that the craft has already covered nearly 6 Billion Km!
This mission is, of course, not just about Pluto, but also about Charon and several other Kuiper Belt objects. We will soon be seeing what the next layer of the Solar System looks like!
Just remember, this is the worst photo we will get of Pluto in the upcoming months. I can’t contain my excitement!