New Horizons Buzzes Pluto

Pluto's heart, July 13th

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took this image of Pluto with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 13, 2015. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13th. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named "the heart,” which measures approximately 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) across. The spacecraft was 768,000 kilometers (476,000 miles) from the surface at the time. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach on July 14th.
Credit: NASA / APL / SwRI

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft whizzed by Pluto this morning just before 8 a.m. EDT at nearly 14 km/s (31,000 mph), about 12,500 km (7,750 miles) above the surface. It arrived a little over a minute early — maybe after a decade it was a little impatient? — but that should have no adverse effects on the data. We should receive (we hope!) an A-OK broadcast from the spacecraft just after 9 p.m. EDT.

My colleague Kelly Beatty will be posting a full digest of the encounter later today, but in the meantime, check out this colorized image from NASA, taken July 13th. The image shows the dwarf planet with north pointing up. The dark regions lie near the equator, with bright regions next to it and intermediate regions near the pole. Oddly, much of the interior of the region nicknamed "the heart" (you can see why) appears remarkably smooth.

The various features clearly show that Pluto is a place where geology has played a role (and might still), principal investigator Alan Stern (SWRI) said July 14th during a morning press briefing. But while the pre-encounter images do show signs of several different terrains, the team needs to see the supporting topographic and color data before making conclusions, he stressed. Spectra will reveal compositions, and thermal maps will provide information, too (are the brightest areas colder than the darkest ones?).

Check back soon for more information. And if you’d like to know more about the New Horizons mission, be sure to read our July cover story on the mission.

Hip hip hooray for the New Horizons team!

New Horizons team

Members of the New Horizons science team react to seeing the spacecraft's last and sharpest image of Pluto before closest approach later in the day, Tuesday, July 14, 2015.
Credit: NASA / Bill Ingalls


Got the Pluto bug? Read more about Pluto's discovery, its demotion to dwarf planet, and why it did (or didn't) have it coming in our Discover Pluto Collection.

One thought on “New Horizons Buzzes Pluto

  1. davemilum

    could New Horizons have gotten there a minute early due to speed and the influence of relativity?

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