Thursday, February 5, 2015

Here comes Pluto



Back in the 1980s, when I was in elementary school, I recall at some point doing a report on Pluto, the newest "dwarf planet."  To this day, I still recall that Pluto was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, and that it has a moon called Charon.  Thanks to a peculiar orbit, it's actually closer to the sun than Neptune during part of its journey around the sun.

Those who remember the 70s and 80s might also remember the excitement of the Voyager missions beaming back stunning pictures of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.  A little before that, we got our first good look at the surface of Mars from the Viking missions.  But our best view of Pluto has for decades been little more than a smudge.

This summer, that will change.  The New Horizons mission has been on its way to Pluto since launching in 2006, and in July, the probe will make its closest flyby to Pluto.  New Horizons will be about 7,750 miles from the surface of Pluto at that point.  If that sounds like a lot, realize that our own moon is nearly 240,000 miles away, and we can see all sorts of things there.  So we should get a fantastic view as New Horizons goes by.

The picture above is the latest image of Pluto from the probe (on the right) as it continues to approach.  The smudge is getting more and more interesting all the time.

Read more about New Horizons at the mission website.

Feedback? Email me at toddcharleswood [at] gmail [dot] com.