SAN DIEGO — NASA said its New Horizons spacecraft completed a historic flyby of Pluto on Tuesday, becoming the first spacecraft to pass over the small, icy world.
The unmanned piano-size spacecraft went over Pluto at 7:49 a.m. ET, at which time it was expected to be traveling nearly 31,000 mph about 7,750 miles from Pluto.
It’s the first mission to Pluto and its five moons.
Scientists waited nearly a decade to get close-up images of Pluto.
“Pluto, even with the Hubble telescope, was eight little pixels. You really could not – even with our best telescopes – determine what Pluto was. But now we’re getting imagery back that will tell us about it’s surface,” said NASA’s Solar System ambassador Jerry Hilburn.
Hilburn said New Horizons is the first probe to go to Pluto.Researchers launched New Horizon in 2006. Since then, it’s travelled three billion miles to capture parts of space never seen up-close.
Hilburn has high hopes for what the probe’s images will tell researchers.
“We hope to discover and characterize information about it’s atmosphere, what its surface is made up of, what is Charon’s atmosphere if it has one. What it’s surface is made up of. And send back more information about the back side of it’s planet,” said Hilburn.
It’s an incredible opportunity because Hilburn says it will be another 80 years before the back side will face our planet.
He says the first images from Tuesday’s journey should be released in the next couple days.
After the probe passes Pluto, it will continue to gather information.
“Once it goes past Pluto, there’s an opportunity five to six years out to have it intersect a couple other very small Kipper Bell object,” said Hilburn.
At the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center a packed house watched the latest NASA news and discussed the historic occasion .
The debate over whether Pluto is a planet or not has been reignited among the jovial scientist hosting the evening. “It doesn’t orbit the same way the other planets do so I’m fine with calling it a dwarf Planet,” said Dr. Lisa Will the resident astronomer at the science center.
“Look, planetary experts who specialize in just our planets agree that Pluto has 5 moons it obits has an atmosphere and it’s a planet,” said Jerry Hilburn astronomer.
Both agree the mission is simply sublime.