After a nine year journey, New Horizons has finally reached Pluto and snapped a few photos for the eyes back on Earth. The dwarf planet remains the only planet in the solar system that has yet to be visited by a spacecraft until now.
The photo circulating around the Web shows a white blotchy image of Pluto and its largest moon Charon. The photo was taken on Jan. 25 and Jan. 27 from a distance of 126 million miles. The satellite travels at 31,000 miles an hour and is expected to reach the planet by early April. By July, it will also be able to take clear images of Pluto’s surface and return clear details of the planet’s geological landscape.
— Global News Toronto (@globalnewsto) February 4, 2015
For astronomers, a new milestone has been reached. Currently, all images of Pluto on the Web and in print are either artist renditions or blotchy photos taken from the Hubble Telescope.
The timing of New Horizon’s Pluto pics also happens to coincide with the birthday of the dwarf planet’s discoverer, Professor Clyde Tombaugh. The professor discovered Pluto in 1930 after detecting the celestial body through photographic plates. Tombaugh was born on Feb. 4, 1906, and he would be 109-years-old today. He passed away in 1997.
Here are some fun facts about Pluto for those interested in learning more about the Solar System’s ninth and farthest known planet:
• Contrary to what some believe, Pluto was named after the Greek God of the underworld and not after Mickey Mouse’s loyal canine friend.
• Pluto was “demoted” to the status of dwarf planet in 2006 because it’s not large enough to have its own orbit (It shares an orbit with other objects in the Kuiper Belt).
• Pluto is about 2/3 the size of the Earth’s moon.
• Due to its elliptical and inclined orbit, Pluto varies anywhere from 4.4 to 7.4 billion miles from the Sun. In fact, there are periods when it’s closer to the sun than Neptune.
In the coming months, New Horizon will return new Pluto images, and history will be made as earthlings get a detailed glimpse of a dwarf planet for the first time ever.[photo credit: C m handler]
Read more: 50 Unbelievable Facts About Earth