It may be 10 years since Pluto had its planet status taken away but that doesn’t stop it continuing to be pretty bloody impressive.
People are now re-sharing a magical photo of Pluto’s atmosphere that was taken by NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft in 2015, reminding us all of the milestone achievement in getting the images back to earth.
The photo being shared on Reddit, was taken just fifteen minutes after New Horizon approached Pluto in a flyby mission at a distance of 11,000 miles.
The New Horizon’s mission was the first to the Pluto system and Kuiper Belt, and provided some of the first quantitive evidence of what we previously only knew in science fiction.
In the words of Hal Weaver, who worked on the mission, there had to be ‘constant vigilance’ to make sure the LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) equipment wasn’t aimed directly at the Sun.
When he saw the first images, he wrote: “I truly will never forget the scene in my office just after midnight on July 13, when I displayed on my computer screen the last full-frame image of Pluto taken by LORRI, which had just been downlinked from the spacecraft.
“There were five other colleagues in my office – the team that produced the beautiful color images displayed for the world the next morning – and we all gasped at the iconic “heart” of Pluto and marveled at the diversity of the terrain surrounding it.”
The dwarf planet features in hundreds of fictional accounts, including Ivan Efremov’s Andromeda , that imagines Pluto as being almost 100% ice.
And indeed the footage from the spacecraft, which shows the sun setting on Pluto’s horizon, reveals the icy mountain landscape estimated to be approximately 11,000 feet high. As well as expansive flat ice plains (informally named Sputnik Planum) and apparent glaciers, according to NASA.
The backlighting of the sunset also highlights over a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s distended atmosphere.
“It’s an amazing photo. At least where Pluto is concerned, we went from science fiction to science in the course of a decade,” said CylonSpring.