It’s a big day for us space geeks, as NASA’s New Horizons probe sends home the most detailed image of Pluto humankind has ever captured after a nine-year, nearly 5 billion-kilometer flight into the farthest reaches of our puny solar system.
New Horizons’ flyby of 2,370 km-wide Pluto is a key moment in the history of space exploration.
“We have completed the initial reconnaissance of the Solar System, an endeavour started under President Kennedy more than 50 years ago and continuing to today under President Obama,” said the mission’s chief scientist Alan Stern.
“It’s really historic what the US has done, and the New Horizons team is really proud to have been able to run that anchor leg and make this accomplishment.”
It marks the fact that every body in that system – from Mercury through to Pluto – will have been visited at least once by a space probe.
Way back in 1989, the year I graduated high school, Siouxsie Sioux sang about the then-ninth and dwarf planet with her side project, The Creatures. The song naturally popped into my head this morning when I woke to see the incredible new images.
I want to see Pluto… I want to have fun
I want to turn blue under an alien sun
Oh let me see Pluto, it seems such a gas
With oceans of methane and petrified grass
UPDATE: Here’s a NASA scientist explaining some pretty far-out shit about why New Horizons will essentially be silent all day as it flies closest to Pluto.