Three Years Ago Today New Horizons Passed Pluto

Extended-color image of Pluto made from data acquired by New Horizons on July 14, 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Jason Major)

Holy Hadean history Batman, where does the time go? Today marks the third anniversary of New Horizons‘ flyby of Pluto and Charon, the first, last, and as yet only mission ever to the distant dwarf planet (aka the reigning King of the Kuiper Belt.) All of the close-up detailed images of Pluto and Charon we have (like this one) and likely will ever have for a long time were captured on this day in 2015 as the spacecraft zipped past. It was truly a historic moment in planetary exploration history!

Below is the post I wrote on the day of the flyby, July 14, 2015….just for a little space reverie.

It’s happened! At 7:49 a.m. EDT (11:49 UTC) this morning, July 14 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed its close pass of Pluto and, fourteen minutes later, its moon Charon. While we won’t receive a signal from New Horizons until about 9 p.m. tonight (and image data from the flyby won’t arrive until July 15th) NASA did share this gorgeous image this morning just before the flyby. it was taken by New Horizons on July 13th and has a resolution of about 4 km (2.4 miles) per pixel, and shows the distant world in approximate true-color. It’s highly-publicized “heart” feature is seen front-and-center – proof that Pluto loves ya!

New Horizons image of Pluto the day before the flyby. NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

And, according to New Horizons PI Dr. Alan Stern, this is but a teaser for the “data waterfall” that’s to begin arriving tomorrow! What an amazing day for science.

“The New Horizons team is proud to have accomplished the first exploration of the Pluto system. This mission has inspired people across the world with the excitement of exploration and what humankind can achieve.”

– Dr. Alan Stern, New Horizons PI, SwRI

The New Horizons team at Johns Hopkins APL when the image above was revealed. (NASA TV)
The New Horizons team at Johns Hopkins APL when the image above was revealed. (NASA TV)

The spacecraft is now moving away from the Pluto system at over 30,000 mph. It will spend the next 16 months transmitting data from the flyby back to Earth so scientists can fill in the long-missing gaps on our knowledge of Pluto and its family of moons.

Check back at the New Horizons site for updates.

“It’s truly amazing that humankind can go out and explore these worlds.”
– Alice Bowman, New Horizons Mission Operations Manager

Update: I had a chance to talk about Pluto with Nerdist.com writer Sarah Keartes – check out her article here.

Also, there was a funny segment by Stephen Colbert and Neil deGrasse Tyson (whom I do not completely agree with regarding Pluto) on the night of the flyby about these images of Pluto – check that out below!

“Rather than call Pluto a planet, I’d take all the four rocky planets and call them dwarf planets.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson

Really?? 😉

False-color image of Pluto and Charon highlights regional color variations on the two worlds (NASA/APL/SwRI)
False-color image of Pluto and Charon highlights regional color variations on the two worlds (NASA/APL/SwRI)
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