We’re exploring the universe with technology and social media

Photo of Pluto

First close-up of Pluto. Original photo from NASA on July 14, 2015.

After travelling nine years and three billion miles, the spacecraft New Horizons gave us a “close-up” of the farthest planet, Pluto. Pluto looks very different than what we imagined. It has mountains, plains and five different moons. The first image NASA shared showed a planet with a “heart.”

The Pluto “flyby” happened early in the morning on July 14. NASA promoted the flyby for days in advance of the event, including asking people to follow the action on the live computer simulation called “Eyes on the Solar System.” NASA also asked volunteers to capture the moment when the countdown reaches zero. We downloaded that program and watched the closest approach at approximately 4:49 a.m. on the West Coast. Here’s our screen grab at 0.2 seconds to closest approach!

Photo of NASA's live computer simulation
Using NASA’s live computer simulation, we “saw” the spacecraft get the closest ever to Pluto.

At that early hour, we had lots of company! Twitter lit up with the hashtag #PlutoFlyby. NASA quickly conducted an online briefing and took questions through social media. Social media continues to be an effective way to share Pluto’s never-seen-before photos.

About a week later, we saw Earth from about a million miles away. A NASA camera and telescope called EPIC took this picture — what a wonderful world!

How exciting to imagine what scientists, technology and space exploration will find next. If Pluto’s flyby is any indication, scientists will continue to share their discoveries and encourage public engagement through social media.

More about the EPIC photo of Earth from NASA’s press release.

More information about the spacecraft New Horizons.