Something very cool happened this week on July 14, 2015. It was an historic day in science as the space craft New Horizons reached its closest point to Pluto- a beautiful object in space that was once recognized as a planet- and its moons Charon, Hydra, Styx, Nix and Kerberos. I have to admit that I’m so excited by this historic event and have been enjoying some of the photos captured by the space craft.
As one who has fallen in love with all that makes up our solar system, galaxy and universe, I’m in awe of the beauty that’s been uncovered. Pluto, what is now known as a minor dwarf planet and a trans-Neptunian object, is 2.66 billion miles from earth at its closest point, and, after a lonely journey of more than 9 years after its launch on January 19, 2006, we’re being treated to a wealth of information.
We’re learning more about Pluto’s makeup than ever before, and we can see irregularly shaped segments on its craterless icy plains, many narrow troughs, dark material within the troughs, pitted surfaces, and hills as high as 11,000 feet. Scientists are also studying its nitrogen-rich atmosphere.
Charon, one of Pluto’s five known moons, has a diameter 9.5% that of Earth’s, while the diameter of Pluto itself is 18.5% that of Earth. In comparison, our moon, which is larger than Pluto, is 27% the diameter of Earth.
At some point we expect New Horizons to begin the next phase of its mission and explore the Kuiper belt where more icy mini-worlds reside.