NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its historic flyby of the distant Pluto at 7:49 AM ET on Tuesday. The probe came within 7,500 miles of the dwarf planet’s surface to take pictures and collect data. Though New Horizons has beamed back dozens of images in the past few weeks as it moved closer to Pluto, enthusiasts won’t get to see the clearest images taken from the closest point instantly.
— NASA New Horizons (@NASANewHorizons) July 14, 2015
New Horizons is busy taking pictures and collecting data
A space tracking station in Australia will be the first place on Earth to get the close-up images of Pluto. The piano-sized probe is so busy taking pictures and collecting data about the dwarf planet and its five moons that it can’t flash a message or image to Earth. To mark the probe’s arrival on Pluto, hundreds of VIPs and astronomers have gathered at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
NASA said New Horizons won’t phone home to update its status until around 9:00 PM ET on Tuesday. Even when it transmits a message, it will take about 4.5 hours for the message to travel 3 billion miles to Earth. So, when will you see images from the close flyby? Once NASA scientists receive images, they will have to process the data.
New Horizons’ close-up images to be released at 3:00 PM ET Wednesday
Mission controllers expect to release the images from close flyby at 3:00 PM ET on Wednesday, July 15. The images will be released online as well as on NASA TV. “That’s going to be a very highly anticipated event,” said the mission’s principal investigator Alan Stern. New Horizons is travelling at around 31,000 miles per hour, too fast to enter the orbit around Pluto.
NASA confirmed Monday that New Horizons has already settled one of the biggest debates about Pluto. Data provided by the probe revealed that Pluto is bigger than it was previously believed. The dwarf planet measures 1,473 miles in diameter. It means Pluto is larger than all other known objects in our solar system beyond the orbit of Neptune.
NASA has now become the world’s first space agency to send a spacecraft to every planet in our solar system – from Mercury to Pluto.