LAUREL, Md. — NASA gave Pluto its first close-up this morning (July 14) since the dwarf planet's discovery 85 years ago. You can follow it all online. Be warned, however: You'll have stay up a little late to see it all.
At 7:49 a.m. EDT (1149 GMT), NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto in what was arguably the planetary event of the year, if not the decade. For the first time since NASA's Voyager mission in 1989, a spacecraft flew by an unexplored planet. "It sounds like it's science fiction, but it's not," New Horizons' principal investigator Alan Stern told reporters here on Monday, July 13. "Tomorrow morning, an American spacecraft will fly by the planet Pluto and make history."
The folks at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City celebrated the flyby with a "Breakfast at Pluto" program. The event was hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum's Hayden Planetarium, along with curator Denton Ebel and astrovisualization director Carter Emmart. You can watch a recording of the "Breakfast at Pluto" discussion on their Google+ page.
At 9 a.m. EDT, New Horizons began observing the night side of Pluto, a process that will take hours as the spacecraft — streaking away at 31,000 mph (49,889 km/h) — attempts to spy the thin atmosphere of Pluto and seek out any traces of an atmosphere on its largest moon, Charon.
At 4:20 p.m. EDT (2020 GMT), New Horizons is expected to call Earth, sending a "phone home" signal to show that it has completed the closest phase of the flyby. It will take about 4.5 hours for the signal to traverse the nearly 3 billion miles (4.7 billion km) between Pluto and Earth.
At 8:30 p.m. EDT (0030 July 15 GMT), NASA will stream a webcast that runs through 9:15 p.m. EDT (0115 GMT), during which time the space agency expects to hear the "phone home" signal.
You can track New Horizons throughout the entire day with NASA's "Eyes on Pluto" app, which will give users a real-time view of where the probe is during its Pluto encounter, as well as what its instruments are observing at any given time. You can download the Eyes on Pluto app here.
So when it comes to tracking New Horizons's Pluto flyby, you have options. Whichever method you use, it promises to be an amazing experience.
New Horizons has already revealed new details about Pluto as it approached the dwarf planet, including its size, its methane-nitrogen polar ice cap and more. Recent photos over the last few days and weeks have revealed a strange heart-shaped feature on Pluto, and what appear to be chasms and craters on Charon.
"Pluto has already surprised us in the images and data taken so far," John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science missions, told reporters on Monday. "And the best is yet to come."
"This is real exploration," Grunsfeld continued. "For New Horizons, I say, 'May the Force be with you.'"
Email Tariq Malik at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. This story was originally written for SPACE.com and was republished with permission here. Copyright 2015 SPACE.com, a Purch company. All rights reserved.
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