After approximately 9-and-a-half years of planning, NASA announced that its scientists have finally reached Pluto, becoming the first to ever reach the dwarf planet and its moons.
The milestone has filled in an empty check box as the Plutonian system was the only one of the original nine planetary systems in the solar system that is unexplored by NASA.
"People didn’t think it could be done… but it’s worked essentially flawlessly for the last 9 years," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern.
NASA's New Horizons spacecraft sped away at over 30,000 miles per hour from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and with their calculation, the spacecraft should be zipping past Pluto at exactly 7:49:57 am ET, where the scientists would collect scientific data.
The scientists are expected to collect enough data to keep the agency busy until next year.
However, while this morning’s take off marks the exact moment of the historic flyby, there is a chance that something may go wrong.
The scientists will know by 8:53 pm ET through an expected confirmation from New Horizon how the flyby went, what data was collected, and what condition the spacecraft is in.
NASA recently released an incredibly clear image of Pluto that is, according to Stern, "1,000 better than we could do even with the biggest and baddest Hubble Space telescope at Earth."
"You can see regions of various kinds of brightness," Stern said. "What we know is that on the surface, the history of impacts, and we see a history of surface activity."
Although scientists still don't know the reasons for the dark and light areas on the planet's surface, the data that New Horizons (opens in new tab) provides will hopefully shed light on the matter.
Image source: NASA (opens in new tab)