New Horizons' Historic Pluto Encounter Has Officially Begun

Illustration for article titled New Horizons Historic Pluto Encounter Has Officially Begun

We are 179 days away from New Horizon's closest approach to Pluto, but that doesn't mean the NASA spacecraft will be twiddling its robotic thumbs until then. As of today, it's starting to record precious data about this mysterious dwarf planet and its surroundings.

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Top image: A computer generated map of Pluto based on Hubble data. Credit: PHL @ UPR Arecibo, NASA HST

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NASA doesn't have any pictures for us yet, but the spacecraft has started to scan for dust and plasma in the immediate area near Pluto.

We can expect to see the first images during the first week of February, and the first better-than-Hubble images in May.

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That said, all incoming images will still be incredibly valuable and unique.

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It's worth pointing out that New Horizons did snap a pick of Pluto from the vicinity of Neptune back in August before it went into hibernation mode:

Illustration for article titled New Horizons Historic Pluto Encounter Has Officially Begun
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(NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

More about New Horizons and the mission at NASA and Space.com.

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DISCUSSION

You know, I love me some Neil DeGrasse Tyson, but the man is wrong about Pluto not being a planet. 5% of professional astronomers voting to demote Pluto is and was ridiculous. And at some point they will hopefully revisit the issue and revote.