After more than nine years and a mind-blowing three billion plus miles, NASA's New Horizons probe has finally made it to Pluto.
And the clearest, most detailed look at the dwarf planet was shared on Instagram.
This wasn't accidental.
“We made an editorial decision to give the world a sneak peek of the image on Instagram,” NASA social media manager John Yembrick told Wired. “We feel it’s important to engage new audiences.”
NASA has an enormous following on Instagram – over 3.6 million followers. Posts average over 100,000 likes and thousands of comments, so the space agency's engagement is also high.
But this is significant, as it's the first time NASA has used Instagram in this way – debuting a major space photo before it even hits the .gov site. (It has now, by the way).
SNEAK PEEK of gorgeous Pluto! The dwarf planet has sent a love note back to Earth via our New Horizons spacecraft, which has traveled more than 9 years and 3+ billion miles. This is the last and most detailed image of Pluto sent to Earth before the moment of closest approach - 7:49 a.m. EDT today. This same image will be released and discussed at 8 a.m. EDT today. Watch our briefing live on NASA Television at: http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv The high res pic will be posted on the web at: http://www.nasa.gov. This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface. Image Credit: NASA #nasa #pluto #plutoflyby #newhorizons #solarsystem #nasabeyond #science
"The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match."
According to NASA, New Horizons' lengthy trip to the closest approach at Pluto took around a minute less than predicted when the craft was first launched in January 2006. Simply amazing.