In a planetary game of nine-ball NASA ran the table today. At 7:49 AM Eastern Time the New Horizons space probe passed within 7,800 miles of Pluto, the ninth and last unexplored world in our solar system. Here at the Palmer’s Almanac we have written about the significant events in the history of space travel and exploration. It’s rare that we get to point to the present/immediate future and talk about an event that will be remembered for generations. Tonight around 9PM ET the New Horizons probe will (hopefully) send back a signal to let folks back on earth know that it survived the pass and has completed its mission. The journey has been nine years and three billion miles in the making. This mission marks the first, and most likely, the last of its kind. First as in the first close-up exploration of Pluto. And the last because Pluto is the last planet-like object to be explored in our solar system. Before New Horizons the only color image we had of Pluto was a fuzzy photo produced by the Hubble Space Telescope. The piano-sized New Horizons probe was launched on January 19, 2006 for the specific purpose of visiting the far-away and unexplored icy object. Seven months after that launch, the International Astronomical Union voted to demote Pluto from a planet to a dwarf-planet. But today, Pluto is a giant in everyone’s eyes as we await newer and more detailed images of Earth’s little brother in our solar system. You may watch the NASA live stream of the "signal event" below starting at 8:30 PM Eastern Time.
Michael E. Palmer is a writer and photographer based in Alabama.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org