New Horizons flies by Pluto

Enormous heart feature on Pluto. Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI
Pluto has a big heart! Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI

 Oh wow!

Today the New Horizons spacecraft zipped past Pluto at 30,800 mph (49,600 km/hr), just 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. I was expecting something cool, but not a heart 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across.

The heart is quie near Pluto’s equator (the photo mostly shows the northern hemisphere) and it seems remarkably flat. The best guess is that it’s geologically new, because much of the rest of Pluto’s surface is covered with impact craters.

As the spacecraft went past Pluto, it was mostly taking photos. It will take some time for the spaceship to send back data, because it’s a very, very, very long way away, so the signal’s weak and the bandwidth is tiny. How far away? Well light from the sun takes 8.3 minutes to reach the Earth, and another 4 hours to reach Pluto.

The many women on the New Horizons team.  Credits: SwRI/JHUAPL
The women on the New Horizons team. Credits: SwRI/JHUAPL

I was also chuffed to find out that the New Horizons team is 25% women.

And here’s Neil deGrasse Tyson, head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, celebrating with Pluto

Neil deGrasse Tyson, head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, celebrating with Pluto
Neil deGrasse Tyson with Pluto

Posted by sheila

Sheila came to La Palma with a six month contract and has stayed 24 years so far. She used to work as a software engineer at the observatory, but now she's a writer and Starlight guide.

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