NASA has been tense with anticipation for the last few weeks as its spacecraft, New Horizons, barreled through deep-space at over 30,000 mph on its way to Pluto. Now, the spacecraft’s mission to the dwarf planet, which was first established more than 10 years ago, is nearing an end.
But the amazing photos and footage of Pluto have just begun!
Case in point: At approximately 500,000 miles from Pluto, the LORRI (LOng-Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera on board New Horizons snapped a series of amazing photos, which Bjorn Jonsson has put together in the first detailed video of Pluto we’ve ever seen:
To get an idea of just how incredible this is, check out a similar video released in 2009 (GIF shown below).
It’s hard to believe that just six years ago, this was the best view we had of Pluto. New Horizons is completely changing the way we see and understand this dwarf planet.
On average, Pluto is more than 3 billion miles from Earth and is about one-fifth the size of Earth. That makes the tiny dwarf planet impossible to see in any sort of detail with instruments on Earth.
Therefore, Pluto has been a big question mark for the last 85 years, since Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in 1930. NASA has explored every planetary system in the solar neighbourhood, from Mercury to Neptune, but for decades Pluto remained untouched. No longer.
Even from one million miles away, New Horizons was snapping photos (shown below) that were already revealing never-before-seen features on Pluto, like craters and cliffs. And there’s even evidence to suggest that Pluto has an active climate that rains down snow on occasion.
Earlier today, New Horizons made its closest visit to Pluto, just 7,550 miles away.
Although NASA hasn’t received the photos from that historic flyby yet — because New Horizons hasn’t transmitted them to Earth — the latest photo from New Horizons that it took before its closest approach is incredible:
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