Despite a recent technical glitch, NASA's big Pluto adventure is still on.
That's right, more than a decade after the New Horizon spacecraft was approved to go to the only unexplored planet in the solar system, the probe will be approaching the dwarf planet next Tuesday. Keep in mind that not only did New Horizon have to travel more than 3 billion miles to reach Pluto, the spacecraft also had to move at speeds between 37,000 mph and 51,000 mph to be in exactly the right place at the right time to complete NASA's mission, and somehow the probe is doing it. Right now, NASA is incredibly close to seeing this thing through. That's even more impressive when you consider that, in addition to all of the usual perils of space, there was a glitch on the craft over the holiday weekend that had people worried the New Horizon had come so far only to fail.
New Horizon had a nasty glitch on Fourth of July, just days before the craft was about to do the first (relatively) close pass of the tiny, icy world. The computer overloaded and partially shutdown, stressing out NASA's flight controllers as they struggled to get back in touch with the probe and fix the problem. They were in contact with the computer after about an hour but scientists lost more than 2 days of space observations while the probe was being repaired.
Space agency officials announced on Tuesday that the probe is still going to swoop in closer to the brown planet to let us see what Pluto looks like in close-up. In the meantime, NASA also released some of the first images New Horizon captured of the planet. The images, taken between 7.8 million and 9.2 million miles away, are pretty fuzzy and they still show “mysterious” (wave spooky alien fingers here) unexplained giant dark spots on the planet's surface, but the dwarf planet itself is beginning to come into focus, so to speak.
The probe is up and running now, and it looks like we'll get a really good look at the planet sooner rather than later. Next Tuesday, after traveling for more than 9 years, New Horizon will be a mere 7,750 miles from Pluto, snapping pictures as it passes by.
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Stephen Hawking called New Horizon's trip to Pluto “momentous,” explaining that this is something you'd have read in a science fiction novel when the famed theoretical physicist was a boy, but now it's actually happening. We have the blurry pictures to prove it.