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At Pluto's doorstep: images from NASA's New Horizons mission

Catch Team | Updated on: 15 July 2015, 1:56 IST

After a three billion mile journey, NASA's grand piano-sized New Horizons probe finally made it to and past Pluto. And after an almost nine-year-long journey, the whole event was over in about 33 minutes. But it's going to take us a lot longer than that to process all the information we've just collected.

Even so, we've already learned a lot about the icy dwarf-planet.

For starters, we unceremoniously demoted Pluto from planet to dwarf-planet without even knowing its actual size. It's bigger than previously estimated.

As it turns out, size wasn't the only thing we were off on. New Horizon's images show us a planet vastly different in colour, to any previous images we've had. And, in the next 24 hours, New Horizons is going to be sending us many more pictures that will drastically change the way we see our diminutive and distant neighbour.

If you aren't already excited, just know that this is the first time in a generation that we've visited a new planet. Given the current space exploration schedules, it might also be the last for a while.

What cosmic success looks like: the New Horizons team reacts to the latest image of Pluto
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Photo: NASA

Members of the New Horizon team exult as the sharpest image ever of Pluto was beamed to them at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.

We know it's small - but that doesn't make it any less striking
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Photo: NASA

This representative image depicts the size of Pluto, and its largest moon Charon, when placed against Earth. That's truly how tiny the planet is - they didn't reassign it as a dwarf planet for nothing - but that doesn't make it any less beautiful.

A stunning portrait from the final approach to Pluto and Charon

A composite photo of Charon (left) and Pluto (right) taken by New Horizons on 12 July. Photo: NASA

Recent measurements by New Horizons indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 2,370 kilometres, 18.5% that of Earth's, while Charon has a diameter of 1,208 kilometres, 9.5% that of Earth's.

The stats may mean nothing to those outside astronomy labs, but it's impossible to not appreciate the stunning detail these images provide of the most distant planet in our galaxy.

Clear, clearer, clearest: here's lookin' at you, Pluto
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Photo: NASA

The most recent high-resolution views of Pluto sent by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reveal the rough terrain of the icy planet.

Charon's giving our moon some competition
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Photo: NASA

New Horizons' expedition has revealed chasms on the moon Charon's surface that are larger even than the Grand Canyon. That above is the sharpest image ever taken of the moon, which is roughly the size of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh put together.

It turns out we might be wrong about Pluto's size. Again
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Photo: NASA

For New Horizons, it was just another million miles to make the flyby. The size of the dwarf planet is now believed to be bigger than what scientists actually thought it to be.

For those who want more than stunning pictures...
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Photo: NASA

...here's a breakdown of the planet's surface features. For the first time, we've been able to see linear features that may be cliffs, as well as a circular feature that could be an impact crater.

First published: 15 July 2015, 1:57 IST