This is Pluto:
The “Heart” region of Pluto, from the 8 AM press conference (but, due to light travel time delay, taken more than 4 and a half hours earlier)
All the textbooks and all the future T-shirts and websites and posters will use these pictures of Pluto. We will never again not know what Pluto looks like.
Well, except for the “back side”, which was last viewed about four days before closest approach… The mysterious dark spots on the Charon-facing side of Pluto
This may not be THE image of Pluto, though. There’s a panorama on the encounter schedule that won’t be transmitted for a few more hours that will probably be better… All of the pictures -and there will be a lot, plus other non-imaging data- will have to be transmitted over the next few months (over a very slow connection).
All thanks to a piano sized instrument moving at 14 m/s, carrying a bit of Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes. All of these images were planned out years in advance, because of how far away New Horizons is at this close encounter: 4.5 light hours away. After that, it’s still got power (200 watts of it, from one of the last radiothermal generators NASA has) so maybe it will be able to fly past another Kuiper Belt object and give us more exciting pictures.
This is why I love astronomy: all of those points of light on the sky, however unimaginably far away, are actual places you can actually visit (time and fuel permitting), and as real as the world you’re standing on.
Other posts about the edge of the Solar System: Pluto was Never a Planet, on the Exploration of Pluto, on the Most Distant Object in the Solar System, on the Saga of Planet Nine, on the Search for Planet Nine (Part 2), on the Secrets of Pluto