Nine years after its launch date, NASA’s New Horizons mission made history two days ago when it captured the first high-quality photograph of Pluto’s surface, reigniting the debate to have the dwarf planet reinstated into the club of planets.
In an interview, Michael Shara of the American Museum of Natural History told Bloomberg’s reporter Emily Chang that lots of craters can clearly be seen on the dwarf planet’s surface in the images published by NASA on its website, and that it also showed other geological features that could either be valleys or canyons.
We’ve also learned more about the planet’s weather conditions and atmosphere, which is predominantly made up of methane, ammonia, and nitrogen.
18 February 1930 – Planet X is discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh and becomes the ninth planet in our Solar System
1 May 1930 – Pluto’s name is publicly announced
25 April 1983 – NASA’s Pioneer 10 probe crosses Pluto’s orbit
31 Oct 2005 – Images from the Hubble Space Telescope show that Pluto has three moons, not one as previously thought
19 June 2006 – NASA launches New Horizons space probe
24 August 2006 – Pluto is stripped of its planet status
20 July 2011 – NASA discovers Pluto has a fourth moon
11 July 2012 – A fifth moon is discovered
14 July 2015 – New Horizons captures first high quality image of Pluto
15 July 2015 - New Horizons captures close-up image of Pluto
While life on Pluto is highly unlikely, there are “a lot more clues to try and unravel the history of Pluto” as we get even closer. As Shara suggests, we’ve learned more about the planet in a day than we have since its discovery in 1930, 85 years ago.
And as the late Neil Armstrong once said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
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