A historic report from CNN this week documents the first high-resolution, detailed photos of Pluto. Taken by the New Horizons spacecraft, the photos show the dwarf planet as it has never been seen before. Of the 3.5 trillion photos taken since photography’s invention 186 years ago, these may be among the greatest.
Almost 50 years after the Mariner 4 made the first flyby of Mars, New Horizons delivered the photos and additional pieces of data on Tuesday, July 14th. The photos showed Pluto’s surface texture, as well as that of its biggest moon, Charon. New Horizons lost communications for 12 hours during the passing, during which it was in danger of being damaged by debris in Pluto’s gravitational field.
The probe traveled almost three billion miles to reach the distant planet, and it would have taken even longer if the planet hadn’t been at the right place at the right time. Because it takes Pluto 248 years to circle the sun, it may have been years before we had another opportunity like this one. Thanks to the miracle of digital photo services, we’ll be able to get a peak at this cosmic milestone as NASA uploads more and more photos.
“Billions of miles from Earth, this little robotic spacecraft will show us the first glimpse of mysterious Pluto, the distant icy world on the edge of our solar system,” commented noted physicist Stephen Hawking. “I will be watching closely and I hope you will too.”