As a spacecraft passes Pluto for the first time, the first close-up photos of the relatively unknown dwarf planet will be broadcasted to the world.
After roughly 7.5 billion kilometres, and a nine-and-a-half year journey, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft will fly within 13,000 kilometres of the planet.
When the spacecraft left on its mission to fly by and photograph Pluto in 2006, the icy planet was billed as a full-fledged planet. Since then, it’s been demoted to dwarf status.
Pluto was first discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh. The spacecraft heading towards the distant planet now carries his ashes as a token of his discovery.
“It sounds like science fiction but it’s not. [Tuesday] morning, a United States spacecraft will fly by the Pluto system and make history,” Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, told a news conference on Monday.
Already, the pictures have been able to provide unknown detail about the planet.
Early images have shown a heart shaped feature on the side of the planet as well as an ice cap, containing methane and nitrogen gas.
According to NASA, measurements obtained by the spacecraft indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 2,370 kilometres, or roughly 18.5 per cent that of earth.
New Horizons will fly by Pluto at a speed of 49,600 km/hr.
Scientists with NASA will not know until late Tuesday if the probe survived the flyby and if it can go on to take more photos of different systems.