Congratulations, Earth – we did it!
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has phoned home to let us know that it made it through Tuesday morning’s historic flyby. It’s official: We’ve visited Pluto for the first time. Now New Horizons is zipping on through the solar system, deeper and deeper into the Kuiper Belt. With any luck, NASA will extend the mission and send New Horizons toward strange new targets on the edge of the solar system.
"We have a healthy spacecraft, we made it to the Pluto system, and we're outbound from Pluto," New Horizons Missions Operations Manager Alice Bowman said from mission control.
Because New Horizons can’t pick up data from Pluto and transmit it back to Earth at the same time, the spacecraft went dark during the peak approach of its mission. There was no certainty that we'd ever hear from it again. But at 8:55, NASA confirmed that New Horizons was sending back a healthy signal, and that data updates were expected to follow.
At 7:49 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, New Horizons made its closest pass of the dwarf planet Pluto after a nine-year, three-billion-mile journey. At just 7,500 miles from the surface of the dwarf planet, New Horizons would have taken unprecedented photos — 10 times as clear as those taken Monday and 10,000 times as clear as any taken by the Hubble. The spacecraft was also set to collect reams of data that would allow scientists to determine the composition of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, as well as the makeup of Pluto's atmosphere.
NASA now expects new data -- including a photo from the closest approach -- to arrive early Wednesday morning.