PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The New Horizons spacecraft passed by Pluto Tuesday morning, traveling 3 billion miles over the course of nearly a decade to take up-close photos of the dwarf planet for the first time.
It was a monumental moment for space exploration. Peter Schultz, a professor at Brown University’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, said the groundbreaking images and information are not only amazing, but they could reveal information about the Earth’s formation.
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“It may tell us something about what happened on Earth 4 billion years ago, when all these objects were running into us, so Pluto may hold the key when we start counting craters,” said Schultz, who’s also the director of the Northeast Planetary Center and the Rhode Island Space Grant.
Official confirmation on the flyby won’t come until later, when the grand piano-sized craft starts transmitting messages back to Earth. The images its already sent back reveal new ice caps and a heart-shaped space in the lower right.
“It also tells us something about the composition, I mean the methane, nitrogen, maybe even some organics,” Schultz added. “There’s a real dark material on Pluto. We don’t know what that real dark material is, with these various instruments we should be able to tell.”
The mission is also studying Pluto’s largest moon. After the fly-by, it will continue observing other objects deeper in the solar system.