NASA spacecraft New Horizons on Tuesday evening passed through Pluto, thereby becoming the first robotic probe to achieve this spectacular feat.
The spacecraft, which left earth almost 10 years ago, travelled five billion km of distance to reach in the vicinity of this dwarf planet. With this, NASA also achieved another feat by having successfully sent its spacecraft to all nine objects, considered to be Solar System’s planets, at least once.
New Horizons sent its high resolution photo of Pluto while it was above the surface of Pluto, at a distance of over 8000 miles. (see photo below). This is the most detailed picture of the tiny world released by the American space agency yet.
The probe mission was expected to sent more high resolution photos, but it has gone out of contact with the scientists. According to experts, there’s a tiny chance that the spacecraft could be lost permanently after it comes in contact with with the flying icy object, as it’s currently flying just 12,500 kms from Pluto.
Pluto (Left) with its moon (Right) Charon
But scientists felt confident that they have enough colour data for them to be able to release another set of new pictures of Pluto later.
The spacecraft earlier released the video below announcing how while approaching Pluto it had come face to face with a red object but managed to avoid any harm.
New Horizons’ chief scientist, Alan Stern couldn’t hide his excitement on the success of this mission.
He said, ” “It’s really historic what the US has done, and the New Horizons team is really proud to have been able to run that anchor leg and make this accomplishment.”
NASA’s science chief, John Grunsfeld, said, “This is true exploration… that view is just the first of many rewards the team will get. Pluto is an extraordinarily complex and interesting world.”
The Nasa craft, powered by plutonium, is around the size of a baby grand piano and is the fastest spacecraft ever launched, travelling at around a million miles a day.
Pluto’s atmosphere consists of mainly nitrogen, very similar to Earth’s. Up until 2006, Pluto was considered to be one of the nine planets of our Solar System until scientists unanimously announced that this was no longer a planet because of its considerably small size (with little over 2,300 km in diameter) and declared it as a dwarf planet.