On July 8th, 2015 NASA released this photo taken of Pluto from the spacecraft named New Horizons on the previous day. (As an update to this post, a sharper photo taken days later during the Pluto Flyby is posted below). At this point, New Horizons is about 5 million miles from Pluto and will get there in 6 days…. so it’s moving at a good clip. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. For that matter, I never thought I would see vehicles on Mars and the vacation photos they are sending back. Its all incredible to me and I thank the people at NASA for this.
Pluto has a weird orbit but at present it is about 3 billion miles from Earth. Any signal that NASA sends to the spacecraft (which travels at the speed of light) takes about 4.5 hours to get there and of course photos or information sent back takes the same time. So for NASA to get results of instructions sent to New Horizons, it takes 9 hours.
I saw someone online state that we are the first people in Earth’s history to be able to see up-close images of all the planets in the solar system (yes, they are including Pluto as a planet since that was convention when we were born). That fact though amazed me. It made me think of what people being born today might think growing up. To them, all this will be standard knowledge. To me, people being on the moon was conventional knowledge and before that, many people thought none of this would ever be possible. Future generations will of course look to explore further. That is how technology and science move forward…new people. What will they explore? The Oort Cloud (if there is one)? What must beings on other planets know about the universe? Way more than us? Do they explore space at all? Can they explore space? Do they have satellites already exploring other solar systems? Could we be the most technologically advanced race in the universe? I suppose its possible. Who knows.
New Horizons is moving about 36,000 mph and so it travels about 864,000 miles per day…and it has taken 9.5 years to get to Pluto from Earth. To go that fast and to conserve fuel, New Horizons had to be slung-shot around Jupiter using Jupiter’s gravity. In doing that, it increased its speed by about 9,000 mph to about 51,000 mph. You might notice that it has slowed down. Why? The gravitational pull from the Sun.
In addition to a couple of cameras, there are instruments on board measuring space dust, plasma and high-energy particles. Pluto was discovered in February 1930 by an American named Clyde W. Tombaugh. He noticed a small dot in a different place on two photographs of the stars that he took. The photos are below.