NASA’s New Horizons probe left Earth over 9 years ago. Where does nine years find Horizons? 4.8 billion Km. from Earth, barely 3 months away from Pluto and able to transmit the first colour photograph of Pluto and its largest moon Charon.
Still 115 million Km. away, New Horizons first image is being called a “preliminary reconstruction”. Mark July 14 on your calendar as the anticipated date New Horizons officially enters the “Pluto system” – close enough to capture detailed surface images of areas no wider than a few kilometers, despite traveling at speeds of 50,000 Km/hour.
Discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930, Pluto’s brief distinction as ninth planet from the Sun fizzled in 2006 with International Astronomical Union rewriting the definition of “planet”. Tiny Pluto, abut half the width of America, has since answered to the name “dwarf planet”. Size isn’t everything – Pluto holds a planetary designation unique in our solar system, that of “binary planet”. Binary because the largest of Pluto’s 5 known moons is so close in size.
Ponder New Horizons – consider a decade of relentless travel across many billion kilometers of space. Keep in mind New Horizons path, science can’t draw a straight line, gas up a probe, send it on a road trip – consider plotting a course through the labyrinth of space, one that depends on gravitational pull of planets and their moons for propulsion.
I was an 8 years old dreamer when we landed on the moon. The world stopped, holding a collective breath to mark science fiction dissolving into science reality. It saddens my inner dreamer to ask how many 8 year old children today even care about remarkable space missions. Fantastic accomplishment might be commonplace these days, that doesn’t make them ordinary. New Horizons is an extraordinary realization of science. Take a moment to grasp the enormity of mankind’s progress.