NASA’S New Horizons spacecraft captured the first up-close photo of the dwarf planet Pluto and late Tuesday, San Diegans joined those around the world in recognizing the achievement.
With just one photograph our relationship is rekindled with the dwarf planet that we've always known as Pluto.
“I am very excited and I have been looking forward to this day a long time,” visitor Evan Zucker said.
He attended Balboa Park’s Reuben H. Fleet Science Center Pluto Fly-By Party with approximately 150 space enthusiasts.
Zucker's fascination with the stars began as a boy. Twenty-six years later he met his wife at the Fleet when he came to see Voyager fly by Neptune. So it's no surprise this close encounter with Pluto is near and dear to his heart.
“I have already made it my Facebook profile photo,” Zucker said.
With a payload of sensors and cameras New Horizons traveling at about 21,000 miles per hour and
reached Pluto in nine and a half years.
How precise were the calculations? If it launched just one month later this historic moment wouldn't have happened for five more years.
“It’s amazing with what goes into it that they can navigate to not hit anything and then also using Jupiter to speed up,” Fleet visitor Jennifer Zilch said.
Over the last seven days New Horizons collected particle and chemical samples, measured solar winds and snapped photos.
The Fleet organized a lecture from a resident astronomer on the spacecraft New Horizons after it sent back an incredible photo. Then, there was an open discussion about Pluto’s importance in the Solar system.
Some in the audience admitted they were still a little sore about Pluto losing planet status but they were all equally impressed with seeing it close up.
“Incredibly sharp beautiful color image we could tell there was ice there was geology,” NASA Ambassador Jerry Hilburn said.
Hilburn is most surprised at Pluto’s reddish color and size - 1,450 miles wide. The two facts were not known before now.
The science is inspiring. The photos spark the imagination of millions. That's our relationship with space, star-crossed lovers forever.
New Horizons can't do its job and download data to NASA at the same time. Scientists say it will take 18 months to retrieve all of the newly discovered data about Pluto.
So the suspense will have to last a bit longer.