Early this morning, NASA's New Horizons flew the closest we've ever been to the dwarf planet Pluto and sent images back to Earth. One of the most noticeable things about Pluto that we can see from these images is a large, bright heart-shaped spot. I like to think of it as Pluto's love letter to its fans back on Earth. After all, even though Pluto was once considered a planet before being demoted, NASA has worked hard for years to get there for a visit. It's nice to see such a loving, heartfelt welcome from the dwarf planet!
The New Horizons visit is actually the capstone of years of scientific exploration to visit all the planets in our solar system. After today's close encounter, all nine of the solar system's traditionally recognized planets (can you name them all?) have been visited by a robotic spacecraft! Space Exploration has shown us the wonders of our solar system since 1942 when the first man-made space craft launched.
Today, though, the focus is on Pluto! First discovered in 1930 by an astronomer named Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto got its name from a young girl. The Kid Who Named Pluto was nicknamed Plutonia after her suggestion was chosen!
Pluto has always been a mysterious planet due to its distance from Earth. In 2006, when scientists changed the criteria for what it means to be a planet, a lot of people were sad. Pluto Visits Earth! imagines what it must have felt like for Pluto to learn it was no longer considered a planet. Here's a small spoiler: Pluto gets mad and decides to have a talk with some scientists on Earth! I love this humorous book, especially because it also has lots of fun facts about Pluto!
To learn more about the debate to reclassify Pluto as a dwarf planet, check out the article "Defining Planethood" or pick up a copy of Pluto or Dwarf Planets. Both give a fun look at our solar system and how scientists classify objects in space.
Today we witnessed history, and from now on, you'll always be able to say you remember a warm summer day when Pluto sent Earth a "love letter" care of the New Horizons!