Tuesday, 14 July 2015


“O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world That has such people in’t!” - William Shakespeare (The Tempest Act 5, scene 1, 181–184)

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is about to reveal to us earthlings a new alien world for the first time. At 7:49 am ET today, the probe became the first spacecraft to fly by Pluto, our solar system’s outermost dwarf planet. This is a historic day for astronomy and science, but also for all people who are curious about our universe, life and everything…

New Horizons has been en route for the last nine years, travelling more than 3 billion miles. The flyby was over in a matter of minutes, as the probe frantically took hundreds of photos and collected data on Pluto’s atmosphere, geology, and moons. All this data will be enormously valuable to scientists as they seek to understand our solar system and how it formed billions of years ago.

New Horizons embodies a fundamental characteristic of our curious, rational species: Our urge for exploration, our desire to see a new world simply because it’s there. It represents the best of humanity, the heights of what we can accomplish through ingenuity, focus, and cooperation. More than anything, this mission is about broadening our horizons — taking in just a little bit more of the impossibly vast universe we live in.

It’s hard to really comprehend how far away Pluto truly is from us. If we think of Earth as a basketball, comparatively speaking, Pluto would be just a little larger than a golf ball. To keep to the planetary scale in our analogy, we’d have to put that golf ball incredibly far away: 80 to 130 km (depending on its location in orbit)! This goes to show how vast even our own little corner of the universe is…

Pluto was discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930 and was originally considered the ninth planet from the Sun. After 1992, its status as a planet fell into question following the discovery of the Kuiper belt, a ring of objects beyond Neptune that includes Pluto among other large bodies. In 2005, Eris, which is 27% more massive than Pluto, was discovered, which led the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to define the term “planet” formally for the first time the following year. This definition excluded Pluto and reclassified it as a member of the new ‘dwarf planet” category (and specifically as a plutoid). Some astronomers believe Pluto should still be considered a planet.

Pluto has five known moons: Charon (the largest, with a diameter just over half that of Pluto), Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Pluto and Charon are sometimes considered a binary system because the barycenter of their orbits does not lie within either body. The IAU has not formalised a definition for binary dwarf planets, and Charon is officially classified as a moon of Pluto.

As the new high resolution images of Pluto trickle in in a few hours, watch and learn, wonder and ponder, speculate and surmise! A rare glimpse into the bottomless pit of creation, a taste of eternity, a wild beauty, and an awe-inspiring view of primordial mysteries. Pluto is part of our solar system, a neighbouring world, an alien planet that nevertheless is built of the same cosmic dust that we are built of.


  1. A historic event! Looking forward to the hires photos... And still trying to comprehend the scale of the solar system!

  2. Just heard on the news that is pink. Pink with a white heart...this has to be the poets' planet:)

  3. It's all so exciting. I recently went to an exhibition of Tombaugh's discoveries. I live in the town he was born. The universe is indeed fascinating!