New Horizons Space Probe's Heartwarming Discovery on Pluto

After a software glitch threatens the New Horizons mission, NASA receives a reassuring sign...

Posted in , Jul 13, 2015

Pluto, Charon and Polaris star.

After nine years, the New Horizons space probe will finally reach its climactic moment: tomorrow morning, if all goes as planned, it will give us a God’s-eye-view of our solar system’s mysterious former-ninth-planet, Pluto. It’s been a long journey—one that nearly ended too soon.

On July 4th, while we were enjoying barbeques and fireworks here on Earth, New Horizons encountered an “anomaly.” Its systems automatically shut down and went into safe mode.

In other words, 10 days before reaching its mission objective, New Horizons froze up like your ancient laptop after watching too many cat videos. And tech support wasn’t as easy as calling your next door neighbor. At NASA’s mission control, operators were unsure whether they could get the probe back online in time for its historic flyby—if at all.

The next day, the problem was identified—a minor software glitch. Systems were restored, and NASA eagerly waited to receive the first image from the probe. When it finally came through, they were stunned. Was that… a heart?

Does Pluto have a heart? Photo credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI

It sure looked like it. A little love note from the heavens, reassuring the scientists that the mission would succeed.

I once met a guy who was convinced the moon landing was a hoax (one of several conspiracy theories he subscribed to). After I mentioned the rovers we’d driven there on the last three Apollo missions, he looked at me like I was crazy and said, “You believe… man drive car on moon? Hahahaha!”

When you hear someone put it like that, it does sound kind of nuts. It’s nearly unbelievable what mankind has been able to achieve when we reach for the stars. And even more surprising what we find up there. Like a heart, greeting us to the edge of the solar system.

I can’t wait to learn what New Horizons reveals about Pluto and the icy bodies beyond. What do you think we’ll find?

Tell us about your unexpected discoveries here on Earth. Share your stories with us.

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