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New Horizons Spacecraft Makes Historic Pluto Flyby

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Pluto is pictured in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless—possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes. (Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI)
Pluto is pictured in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless—possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes. (Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI)

It took a journey of three billion miles over nearly a decade, but the New Horizons spacecraft has finally flown by Pluto, which means it has now visited every planet in the solar system.

New Horizon's closest approach was expected at 7:49 a.m. Eastern time today, but we won't know for sure until tonight, since the spacecraft, traveling at 31,000 miles per hour, won't broadcast its findings back to Earth until it's finished photographing the unprecedented encounter.

Kelly Beatty is senior editor at Sky & Telescope Magazine, and he's in the center of the action at NASA's flight operations center in Maryland. He joins Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson to discuss the historic event.

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This segment aired on July 14, 2015.

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