One year ago today, NASA’s New Horizons probe whizzed past Pluto and opened up a new frontier for planetary science – and to mark the occasion, the mission team is looking back at its greatest hits and looking ahead to a landing.
“It’s strange to think that only a year ago, we still had no real idea of what the Pluto system was like,” project scientist Hal Weaver, who’s based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a news release celebrating the anniversary. “But it didn’t take long for us to realize Pluto was something special, and like nothing we ever could have expected.”
After more than nine years of cruising through interplanetary space, the piano-sized New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto and its moons at a speed of more than 30,000 mph on July 14, 2015, capturing readings as it went. Since then, the probe has been transmitting gigabytes’ worth of data back to Earth at a slow but steady rate.
The pictures have been unprecedented, providing the first close look at icy worlds that whirl more than 3 billion miles from the sun, in a region known as the Kuiper Belt. They’ve even inspired a set of postage stamps.