Humans are about to get our first close-up of Pluto -- here's how far we've come

The world has been waiting nearly a decade for NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft to reach Pluto.

Its mission: take the most detailed images of Pluto yet.

Before New Horizons started snapping recent images, our most detailed images of Pluto were merely a handful of pixels in size.

When Pluto was discovered in 1930, it appeared as a meager dot of light on even the largest Earth-based telescope. The planet is two thirds the size of our moon, yet 12,000 miles further away. For that reason, it’s extremely difficult to see and photograph.

You can see how faw we’ve come since this few-dozen pixel image in the gif below, shared by NASA’s Goddard research facility.

For a closer look the Hubble Telescope imaged Pluto’s entire surface in 1994, showing that the planet is oddly complex with lots of contrasting colours.

But because Hubble’s images were blurry, it was hard to resolve the colours’ edges. The two pixelated images at the top of this image are the actual Hubble images, the larger, clearer images below are approximations of what it might look like.

Hubble plutoNASAThe never-before-seen surface of the distant planet Pluto is resolved in these NASA Hubble Space Telescope pictures, taken with the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Faint Object Camera (FOC) aboard Hubble.

After its launch in 2006, the New Horizon’s spacecraft has been snapping images of Pluto as it gets closer and closer to the planet.

Here’s a gif of the spacecraft’s journey to Pluto over the last few months, from ABC news:

The most recent image of Pluto was taken on July 8 from a distance of about 3.7 million miles away:

New horizons pluto charonNASA-JHUAPL-SWRINew Horizons was about 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) from Pluto and Charon when it snapped this portrait late on July 8, 2015. Most of the bright features around Pluto’s edge are a result of image processing, but the bright sliver below the dark ‘whale,’ which is also visible in unprocessed images, is real.

New Horizons will snap even more detailed images of Pluto and its five moons when it flies by on Tuesday July 14.

We know very little about the dwarf planet, and even less about its moons. All of that will soon change when New Horizon’s onboard instruments collect data that scientists will analyse for years to come.

We can’t wait.

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