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After more than 9 years and 4.8 billion kilometres, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) New Horizons probe made a historic flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto earlier this week.
Associate Professor James Taylor from the Department of Physics and Astronomy spoke to Eric Drozd from 570 News about this scientific milestone.
For the first time scientists got a closer look at Pluto when the New Horizons probe sent back detailed photos from the encounter.
This is a pretty exciting moment,” says Taylor. “People thought about this mission even 20 years ago starting in the early 1990s. Pluto represented something totally different at the time. It was a planet, it was the one odd ball planet but we thought that was all that was out there.”
Launched in 2006, the probe was sent to study Pluto, its’ moons and the Kuiper Belt through a series of flybys.
Pluto is probably one of the planets that we’re more easily able to study and visit, at least with missions,” says Taylor. “Really this is the beginning of a whole new part of the solar system that we didn’t know existed 15 years ago. So it’s an exciting moment and a huge success for the team that did this.”
Although scientists have only seen a handful of images and measurements this mission has already changed our understanding of Pluto. We now know that Pluto has icy mountains stretching as high as 3,500 meters and a surface that is relatively unscratched by impact craters.
Listen to the full interview on 570 News.