As an amateur astronomer, Pluto is a tantalizing target to find, but one that is quite out of reach for all except the most committed amateur astronomers with the best possible equipment. And even if you locate it in a telescope it will be an extremely faint pinprick of light. So it has never entered my interest until this week. Instead of viewing it from a distance, humanity has finally launched a probe to fly by the planet (ok, dwarf planet) and offer up a close-up during its close passage.
Almost 10 years after launching, New Horizons arrives at Pluto this week. The initial pictures are promising, and I am confident we will be overwhelmed with new data and new discoveries in the days ahead, and in the weeks and months that follow as the vast collection of sensor data is gradually transmitted back to Earth. I loved every major interplanetary mission growing up, watching Pioneer and Voyager vastly expand our knowledge of the Solar System. New Horizons will provide the icing on the interplanetary cake; with our first ever close up of a dwarf planet and a peek into the Kuiper Belt.
Stay tuned to NASA for a busy week of discovery: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html