Sometimes the most important thing about a picture is the photographer. Earlier this week, NASA announced that the New Horizons probe—long on its way to Pluto—had captured the closest images ever recorded of the long-mysterious dwarf planet. Not the most detailed (that distinction belongs to the Hubble Space Telescope), but certainly the closest.
New Horizons will achieve a close orbit with Pluto in July, and we’ll get incrementally sharper images between now and then. This Kuiper belt striptease will end with our first high-resolution shots of the dwarf planet’s surface, which should definitively resolve the question of whether Pluto is geologically active.
We’ll also get some good close-up shots of Pluto’s five moons, including the nearly-as-large Charon (a compelling, if unlikely, possible habitat for extraterrestrial life). Our understanding of the solar system—and the composition of the potential hundreds of dwarf planets sprinkled throughout its intermediate outer layer—is about to get a whole lot clearer.