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Question Your World: When Will We Know More About Pluto?


In 1930 Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto from the Lowell observatory. Since then it has been many things to many people, but for the first time ever it’s about to be subject of an up-close study by the New Horizons team. What will we learn from Pluto? When will we know more about Pluto? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

The once planet, now dwarf planet, remains the celestial body of great interest to many astronomers and scientists. Located a whopping 3 billion miles away, Pluto has remained a well-known but very understudied part of our solar system. As of now we’ve had limited information on this dwarf planet and no clear photographs whatsoever. All that is about to change thanks to NASA’s latest landmark encounter with this distant world.

NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft in 2006. Traveling at speeds over 31,000 mph, the spacecraft has finally approached the Pluto system. New Horizons will do a flyby of the system to collect data regarding its moons, the dwarf planet’s surface features, and send back up close photos of the frozen object. Keep in mind that at this distance it takes light 4.5 hours to get from Pluto to here. The data, traveling at the speed of light, will be sent home in a few transmission which will kick off the next few years worth of research, processing, and data analytics. However, before any of that happens, scientists patiently have to wait for another signal. The first heavily anticipated transmission will just be a simple single that says, “I’ve survived and now here comes the good stuff!” Lucky for space fans and a very dedicated New Horizons team, that signal was received at 8:52 p.m. on July 14th. New Horizons has survived the Pluto system encounter and will soon be beaming back a myriad of exotic information. Pluto may not be the biggest type of planet, but it certainly will be the largest trending topic on the internet as new information becomes available.

For the next few weeks images and other data will be the subject of a lot of attention. Beyond that though the work will continue. New Horizons’ flyby marks a landmark accomplishment in science. Not only is this our first up close study of this distant world, this begins our study of the thousands of icy objects out in Pluto's neighborhood, the Kuiper belt. This region of space can now become the next frontier in further understanding our own solar system. In 1930 Tombaugh began the first exploration of Pluto, but now, 85 years later, a new generation of scientists is poised to learn about the Kuiper belt and the mysteries that lay ahead.

This journey to Pluto covered 3 billion miles and over 9 years. Today we’re celebrating the accomplishments of some very dedicated men and women who have devoted their lives to further understanding our natural world. A barrage of new information will now be added to our knowledge of the solar system. Future generations will now have a platform to build upon with more detail and a greater understanding as we continue to do what we do best, look around and ask questions. A big congrats to the for successfully navigating an unimaginable distance to bring humanity a more clear picture of another member of our solar system family.