Here’s Why The ‘Pluto Flyby’ Is So Special

As New Horizons gets closer to Pluto, the pictures are getting better. The probe’s latest picture, released on Saturday, has given scientists more information about Pluto, which is described as a dwarf world. The new picture, although black-and-white reveals a band of patterned terrain extending 1,500 km around the globe.

Despite having discovered Pluto is part of the solar system a long time ago, we’ve never had a detailed look this frozen wonderland. Even with the Hubble space telescope this planet looks like a pixleated, blurred smudge. The planet is 4.8bn km away and so small about two-thirds the size of the Earth’s moon. Nasa’s spacecraft is due to fly past Pluto on Tuesday, 12,500km above the surface. At that point, its telescopic camera, Lorri, will be able to get even better quality pictures.

New Horizons was launched from Earth in 2006 and now scientists are eagerly waiting for pictures from Pluto and its five moons: Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra.

The mission is an almost impossible one. The distance to Pluto is huge – more than 4.7 billion km. The mission team expects it to take 16 months to return everything they discover over the coming week.

Alan Stern, the principal investigator – leader – of the New Horizons mission is over the moon about the success of the mission so far. “This” – he pauses dramatically – “is a moment. People should watch it. They should sit their freakin’ kids down and say, think about this technology. Think about people who worked on this for 25 years to bring this knowledge… It’s a long way to go to the outer edge, the very edge of the solar system.”


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