The New Horizons space probe has sent us a postcard from Pluto, and it’s a valentine! Exactly 50 years after Mariner 4 became the first spacecraft to capture close-up images of another planet (Mars), New Horizons has become the first spacecraft to send back high-resolution images of Pluto, finally completing NASA’s initial reconnaissance of every planet in our solar system. A view of the planet captured just before New Horizon’s closest approach to Pluto is dominated by a large, bright feature informally named “the heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across—about the distance from Denver to Chicago, in America’s own heartland.
Beginning its journey over nine years ago, on January 19, 2006, New Horizons swung by Jupiter for a gravity boost in 2007, then eventually made its historic flyby of Pluto—over 3 billion miles from Earth—on July 14, 2015. After continuing to explore the icy dwarf planet and its five known moons (Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra), the probe will plunge even deeper into the cold, mysterious Kuiper Belt, searching for clues to the origins of our solar system.
You can follow the journey of New Horizons on Twitter and obtain up-to-the-minute reports on the New Horizons Facebook page. Subscribe to the New Horizons YouTube channel to view several educational videos.
Learn more about the New Horizons mission on the NASA Web site. Resources include background information, factsheets, news reports, images, and videos. Their Pluto Toolkit includes a plethora of resources to help educators, students, and other interested persons make the most of this historic event.
Article by Bobby Griffith.
Photo of Pluto and close-up of icy mountains of Pluto from New Horizons image gallery on NASA Web site.