NASA announced that its New Horizons flight to Pluto — a journey 3 billion miles and nearly a decade in the making — finally made it to its destination.
New Horizons has completed its closest approach, whizzing past Pluto merely 7,750 miles from its surface about the same distance “from New York to Mumbai.” It is the first space mission to explore a “world so far from Earth,” according to a NASA release.
We saw some incredible images already leading up to the flyby, including the heart-shaped area on Pluto’s surface, which is even more vivid in this latest picture.
Right now, researchers are in wait mode — it takes about 4.5 hours for information from the probe to reach us back on Earth. Per NASA, New Horizons is in “data-gathering mode and not in contact with flight controllers” at this time. The next round of information is expected to reach them tonight.
The mission is amazing for so many reasons, after all, as NASA points out, Pluto was only discovered about 85 years ago. Traveling at 30,000 mph, they say that “the spacecraft threaded the needle through a 36-by-57 mile (60 by 90 kilometers) window in space — the equivalent of a commercial airliner arriving no more off target than the width of a tennis ball.” Any particle even the size of a “grain of rice” colliding with New Horizons could have incapacitated the spacecraft.
The New Horizons’ trip took about a minute less than NASA predicted when it launched in January 2006 — which means that scientists have a more accurate handle on space travel than we do heading to the beach.
Next up? After we get those new pictures tonight, NASA reports that it will take 16 months for New Horizons to send a decade’s worth of data back to Earth.
Check out NASA’s “Pluto in a Minute” video below: