NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft finally reached Pluto on July 14, 2015 after a journey that has lasted nearly a decade.
New Horizons launched in 2006, and has made observations along its nearly three billion mile journey. But scientists and space enthusiasts have been eagerly awaiting the spacecraft’s Pluto flyby.
A computer malfunction occurred on Saturday, July 4 resulting in a temporary loss of communication. But the New Horizons team determined the cause of the glitch, and concluded that the probe was still on track for its July 14 Pluto flyby.
Sure enough, the craft made it to Pluto, and even a little ahead of schedule.
“The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States,” says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. He continues, “Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match.”
Information already received from New Horizons reveals that this dwarf planet is larger than previously thought. The data shows that Pluto has a diameter of nearly 1,500 miles (18.5% the size of Earth). Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, has a diameter of 750 miles (9.5% the size of Earth).
Scientists also say that the initial data suggests that it snows on Pluto.
Google acknowledged the historic mission with a Pluto flyby Google doodle.
— Google Doodles (@GoogleDoodles) July 14, 2015
“As New Horizons completes its flyby of Pluto and continues deeper into the Kuiper Belt, NASA’s multifaceted journey of discovery continues,” says John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The valuable Pluto data collected by New Horizons will be transmitted from the probe back to Earth during the next several weeks.