July 14, 2015
NEW HORIZONS FLIES BY PLUTO
Another chapter in human history has ended. Never again will any person living today see the exploration of a planet in our solar system. Never again will we watch with bated breath as a probe brings us closer to one of our neighbors, three billion miles out, a story nine-and-a-half years in the making.
I was in 8th grade when New Horizons launched. I remember being totally in awe. At the time, it was the most advanced rocket we'd ever built, and it sent this probe hurtling at 36,400 mph into the solar system.
To this day, New Horizons reigns as the fastest rocket we've ever launched.
Through the years, you'd hear whispers of New Horizons and Pluto, but for a long time, it was lost to memory. That is, until December 2014, when New Horizons came out of its hibernation and showed us a prick of light in the distance, an unimpressive speck of pixels: Pluto.
The months dragged on, and New Horizons would beam back pictures every few days, each image a bit clearer than the last. But in June 2015, we began to see the planet and its moons dancing around each, their orbits skewed and wobbly, unlike any orbit of the solar system's other planets.
The months turned to weeks.
The weeks turned to days.
The days turned to hours.
At 07:49 am on July 14, two things happened at the same time: New Horizons flew by Pluto, all seven of its scientific instruments grabbing up data as it zoomed past--and NASA released an image taken 16 hours earlier, the clearest, most amazing picture we have ever seen of the planet.
New Horizons will beam back the data and pictures from the flyby tonight, and NASA will release those tomorrow...but this image right here has taken the world by storm. News outlets, social media, magazines, newspapers. Everyone is spreading this image.
This is the last planet. There will never again be a mystery like this for us to solve, or a journey like this for a probe to take. We have met all of our planetary neighbors. This is the dimming of the dawn of space exploration.