NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has made the first visit to Pluto, speeding past at 14km per second. Earlier, the space agency released the most detailed picture yet as it hurtled towards the dwarf planet on Tuesday. The probe was set to grab more pictures and other science data on the object, as it passed 12,500km from the surface. BBC reports:
Controllers got a last health status report, before the robotic craft turned its antenna away from the Earth to concentrate on its target. Only when New Horizons has its trove of images safely in its onboard memory will it call home again.
This is not expected to happen until just after midnight (GMT) into Wednesday. It means there will be a long, anxious wait for everyone connected with the mission, as they hold out for a signal that will be coming from almost five billion km away.
New Horizons’ flyby of 2,370km-wide Pluto is a key moment in the history of space exploration. “We have completed the initial reconnaissance of the Solar System, an endeavour started under President Kennedy more than 50 years ago and continuing to today under President Obama,” said the mission’s chief scientist Alan Stern.