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article imagePluto: Flyby makes history and wows world

By Caroline Leopold     Jul 14, 2015 in Science
NASA's New Horizons made history by being the first spacecraft to reach the dwarf planet Pluto, the last unexplored world in the solar system.
Celebration broke out at New Horizons' mission control center at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory when the spacecraft whizzed past Pluto at 7:49 a.m ET on Tuesday.
NASA has achieved triumph with the New Horizons spacecraft, which left Earth in 2006 to traverse the entire solar system. The U.S. has bragging rights as the only country to have visited every planet in the solar system.
During the morning's flyby, the craft passed within 7,800 miles of the dwarf planet's surface speeding at about 28,000 mph (45,000 km/h). New Horizons has been collecting and transmitting scientific data that have intrigued scientists and the public.
An incredible journey that crossed more than 3 billion miles and took more than nine years seems to have been completed in a flash. However, there is more waiting ahead. The data that New Horizons is collecting will take 16 months to transmit back to Earth.
As New Horizons hurtles through space, there has been a deluge of data and new facts about the dwarf planet. The size of the planet, which has been a puzzle due to its obscuring atmosphere, has been calculated to be 1,473 miles (2,336 kilometers).
This graphic presents a view of Pluto and Charon as they would appear if placed slightly above Earth...
This graphic presents a view of Pluto and Charon as they would appear if placed slightly above Earth's surface and viewed from a great distance. Recent measurements obtained by New Horizons indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 2370 km, 18.5% that of Earth's, while Charon has a diameter of 1208 km, 9.5% that of Earth's.
NASA
Pluto is confirmed to be the largest dwarf planet in the Kuiper belt, considerably larger than runner-up Eris. The new size calculations may resurrect debate about promoting Pluto to planet status, but that is not likely.
The mission has confirmed that Pluto's ice caps do indeed comprise ice made from nitrogen and methane. The atmosphere on Pluto and its topography have been a major subject of wonder and it appears that knowledge breakthroughs will be forthcoming.
Photos of Pluto from the New Horizons Mission | NASA
More about Pluto, new horizons, dwarf planet, NASA
 
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