This is What Pluto Looks Like from 766,000 Miles Away

We're about to get much, much closer.


NASA posted a new photo of the planet Pluto this morning. The photo was taken by the New Horizons deep space probe from 766,000 miles away, but even still, it's bigger, closer, and more colorful than any photo of the planet we've ever seen before. 

In a Tweet, NASA calls the photo a "love note back to Earth," referencing the giant heart-shaped mark on the planet's underside. 

NASA / Twitter

The photos are about to get better. Much better.

This morning, New Horizons is flying by Pluto and will come within about 8,000 miles of the planet, providing us with the best view of Pluto we've ever had. 

Data from the flyby won't start coming back until a little after 9 p.m. tonight, however, in part because the probe will be spending all of its processing power collecting data, and in part because it takes more than 4 hours to send a signal back to Earth. 

In the meantime, you can follow along with NASA's video simulation of New Horizons' activities this morning via their Eyes On the Solar System. Or watch this short video via NASA's app and Wired, which shows, in sped-up form, what the central eight hours of the mission will look like. 

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  1. I see that Tulip has out EVERY ONE of his sockpuppets today. Gonna be tiring.

    Cool about Pluto!!

    But what does The Donald? say about it?

    1. So these assorted “conservative” (be it anti-immigration, anti-gay rights, anti-Iranian) statements by commentators with no prior history are actually fake?

      Merely there to prove Bo’s superior brand of libertarianism?

      1. Everyone here knows that there are a finite number of libertarians in the world. When a “new” one appears, it must be a sock puppet. It’s self evident.

        1. So you’re saying you don’t believe in reincarnation? Wow.

        2. Well in truth as Bo is in fact a libertarian and I am only vaguely open to certain libertarian positions on certain policies at certain times (if a growing number at more and more times);

          He is without a doubt the better Libertarian and I should be told “Go Fuck Off SLAVER!”

          But it had honestly not occurred to me that Bo is a persona.

          That cannot be true can it, carrying on such a dialogue with yourself would seem so tiring as to be impossible.

    2. The Plutonians are doing the raping.

    3. John is determined to engage with every one of them.

      1. With epigrams like he always does.

        1. I read somewhere that John is Tulpa, and Tulpa is Bo, and Bo is Mary, and Mary is Sugarfree, and Sugarfree is John, and…

  2. Actually, it looks like Snoopy’s head. IRONY.

    1. Does that make Charon the Red baron?

  3. What’s the libertarian position in the planethood of Pluto? Should we ask Bo?

    1. Bo Jackson? Shit. There’s a blast from the past.

      1. Bo knows astronomy.

        Althought I think that Neil Tyson d-bag was advocating for Pluto as not a planet so I’m going to go with the opposite of what he thinks.

        1. Pluto will always be a planet to me.

          1. It’s a silly issue, anyway. We can call it whatever we want, it remains what it is: Pluto.

            1. But is it Jewish?

              1. Only if its mother was Jewish.

                1. Or it redoes its conversion from Planet to Dwarf Planet in front of the OAU (Orthodox Astronomical Union), but then we had to ceremonially get a drop of blood from Charon.

            2. Does it self identify as a Planet, a mineral or a racial/gender minority?
              It’s not all about your cis-terran views.

              1. The heart on its side means that Pluto has forgiven us the insult.

            3. Pretty much what I thought. I kept telling the people “mourning” Pluto that whatever we called it, it was still there and still called Pluto; it’s not like the Empire came by with the Death Star and blew it up.

              1. Well, maybe. When we get the data, we’ll confirm that it was still there at one point.

            4. Yeah, it is funny that people get all bent out of shape about it. It is what it is. The IAU definition makes more sense for a scientific classification (though it still has some flaws). That doesn’t mean they own the word. Call it what you want.

          2. I read my son a ret-conned Dr. Seuss franchise book that speaks of eight planets. I always say nine and take a second to mention Pluto. There are nine lights!

            1. Jesus… is nothing sacred?

              1. Yeah. I’m all for the change in Pluto’s classification, but that just seems wrong.

        2. If you need a non-jackass to be the astronomy guy around here, I’ll step up.

          It’s fine to consider Pluto a planet, but if you do, you should also consider Ceres, Vesta, Juno, and Pallas of the main asteroid belt planets as they are large enough to be round, and Kuiper Belt objects Eris, Makemake, Haumea, Sedna, Quaoar, Orcus, and the yet-unnamed 2007OR10 could also be considered planets, bringing the grand total to 20.

          Ceres was also considered a planet when it was first discovered, but was also demoted as the rest of the main asteroid belt was discovered. Pluto simply suffered the same fate as the Kuiper Belt was discovered.

          1. I’m more than happy to have over 20 planets.

            1. As long as we can exploit them for minerals… and to make our libertarian base

            2. I’m cool with it if you are. It doesn’t matter all that much to me. The definition of “planet” vs. “dwarf planet” that exists now is pretty much arbitrary.

              1. A dwarf planet is not a planet, just like how social justice is not justice.

          2. Yeah, if you are going to define “planet” (I don’t think there was an official, formal IAU definition before the change of Pluto’s status) in a non-arbitrary way you either have to include all Pluto-like things and large asteroids or none.
            I think 3 categories would have been good: rocky planets close to the sun, giant gassy/icy planets and trans-Neptunian Pluto type things.

            1. Just curious, where would the four big, round things in the main asteroid belt fit into this categorization?

              1. Planetoids! What happened to planetoids, anyway?

                1. They were banned?

              2. Good question. I don’t know. It seems like there is some sense to the criterion for being a planet that says it shouldn’t share its orbit with a lot of other stuff.

                1. But it has a very big orbit and an irregular one at that.

                  1. Pluto does seem to have a much more round orbit than the other large trans-Neptunian things people have found. Though still much more eccentric and further off the ecliptic than the other planets.

                    1. I hated it when Pluto was ‘demoted’ but, looking at the inclination of its orbit compared to the other ‘we’re-agreed-they’re-planets’ planets, I had to let go of that one.
                      It’s just too tilted! It’s different enough that way to warrant forfeiting its ‘status’ as a ‘planet.’

                      ……. imnsho….
                      … Whatever.

          3. Well, it is rather large compared to other bodies we’ve identified (over half again as large as Ceres), it’s arguably not quite in the Kuiper belt, it’s spherical, has a substantial moon, etc.

            If the Moon or, say, Titan were orbiting the sun, planets or not planets?

            1. If they were in a solar orbit, I’d be in favor of giving them planetary status. I mean, the moon is bigger than pluto (mean radius about 1.5 times that of the planet)

              1. What if Pluto has a core and mantle–does that change the analysis? It obviously has an atmosphere of sorts.

                1. I don’t think that matters. It seems that orbiting the sun and being round are the generally agreed-upon criteria for planethood. The controversy is over the third bit imposed by the IAU that resulted in Pluto’s demotion: “being large enough to clear its orbit.”

                  1. It’s not in a regular orbit, so wouldn’t that inhibit its clearing ability?

                    1. It probably doesn’t help.

                    2. I still don’t care that much, but I do think there’s an arbitrariness to the definition. I think it would be better just to pick a minimum diameter, require independent orbit around a star, and be done with it.

              2. +1

            2. There are other spherical bodies farther out than Pluto, at least one of which is more massive. It’s not the shape that makes Pluto not a planet by the new definition.

              The Moon is a lot bigger than Pluto. I’m not sure if it is massive enough to clear it’s orbit. Ganymede or Titan probably would be. They are both pretty close to the mass of Mercury.

              1. Eris might have a claim to planetary status, too.

            3. Another factor was that its “moon” Charon is almost exactly the same size, therefore the combined COG is about half way between. Therefore, which orbits which? So the argument that Pluto had to be a “planet” because it had a moon was shot down.

              1. You are incorrect. Charon is about half the diameter of Pluto and while their barycenter is outside of Pluto, it is much closer to Pluto than to Charon.

                1. Charon. So it is Jewish.

                  1. I thought Charon was Greek. So it probably lives at the expense of Pluto.

                2. I stand corrected. I am ready for my flogging.

                  I used to teach AP Physics, but I haven’t done any astronomy stuff in years, so apparently you can add long-term memory degradation to my long list of ailments.

                3. Charon is about half the diameter of Pluto

                  Does this moon make by sphere look fat?

          4. There’s only ONE planet – ME. The rest of you dwarf planetoid glorified-moon bitches can BLOW ME-



            1. You, a planet? You’re a gaseous blowhard.

  4. Looks like a planet to me and I’m not even an expert.

    1. Can’t argue either point…

  5. While this mission may prove to be a spectacular success, I can’t help but feeling sad if not outraged that the statist NASA stole my money to do it.

    1. Get over it. I think I detect a pattern of roads on its surface.

    2. NASA actually is able to accomplish cool things with the (relatively) small amount of money they are given, though. It’s one of the few government agencies I will allow to continue existing after I ascend the throne of skulls (of petty tyrants) and establish Libertopia. I like to look at it the way European governments gave people money to explore the new world.

      1. The monarchs expected a return on their investments in the form of new trade routes, resources and territories.

        1. I don’t know about trade routes, but resources and territories could very well have happened if we hadn’t quit after Apollo.

        2. Mercantilism

      2. NASA, like NOAA, is pretty much infested with parasitcal, grant eating, diaper wearing shits.

        Exploration should be privatized. Everything that is diverted into the Federal black hole is to serve the bureaucratic parasites. The mind spins at how far mankind would have advanced over the last 100 years if its talents hadn’t been diverted into the welfare/warfare State. It shits out a few smart phones and we’re bedazzled by the “fruits”.

        After all, we didn’t make that…

        1. Oh, my generally positive opinion of NASA isn’t to say it’s all sunshine and happiness. It has plenty of the same foibles of other government organizations and could do with some cleaning up. Hell, just read the very frank astronaut autobiography “Riding Rockets” by R. Mike Mullane. I’m just saying NASA as a whole does actually accomplish positive things and might be worth keeping around.

        2. Well, at least some of the NASA people have an excuse for the diaper wearing.

  6. Looks like it has somewhat of an active surface.

    Don’t see too many craters.

  7. I can see global warming all over its surface. What are we going to do about it!

    1. By observing it, we have changed it. We must repent and commit to removing our unwelcome influence on the universe.

      1. If a ‘planet’ orbits the sun and no one observes it, does it exist?

        1. Does it suffer from false consciousness?

  8. Very cool, for a planet that can’t even maintain a reasonable orbit.

    1. Check your privilege, sir! Pluto is simply other-orbited!

      1. Unless it’s a binary or other plural orbit. That would just be disgusting.

  9. From a purely media message point of view, was NASA wise to build up the Pluto “fly-by” itself?

    It might be days until we actually receive more detailed images of Pluto appreciably different from the ones we already have.

    NASA and the science press understands that this is the beginning of a data receiving process but I think some blogs (in particular) are getting a little hype-heavy.

    1. Odds are that it will be successful, and they’ve gotten some data already, even if the probe ends up getting smashed or malfunctioning. So they’re marking the event of actually encountering Pluto (which has happened even if New Horizons was blown up by phaser fire). I get NASA doing it, as it’s a major milestone, but I’m mildly surprised the media is giving it as much attention as it is, without knowing for sure what’s happened.

  10. We should have some nice pictures tomorrow, assuming the probe didn’t run into anything during the flyby. It’s hurling by at over 30,000 mph. I believe that tonight is more about checking in than in the data download, which several sources have indicated will happen late Wednesday. The probe is still collecting data as it flies past Pluto.

    There’s a possibility of the probe going to another Kuiper belt body in four years or so.

  11. I thought the deep ocean was the final frontier. I was told we know more about outer space than we do about the deep ocean.

    1. No, we don’t. There a heck of a lot more outer space than deep ocean, and when you start piling on the blank spots in outer space that have not been actually examined yet, there’s far more unknowns out there.

      1. Of course.

        Hell, the vast majority of the observable universe is likely not even in the form that it looks like to us, given the unimaginable distances. The further away an object is, the further back in time we’re actually looking.

        I was just being snarky.

      2. It’s an apples/oranges comparison. We think we know lots about the large scale structure of space. We know relatively little about the small scale details of the deep ocean.

        1. Apples and oranges is a poor dichotomy these days given our modern understanding of cladistic relationships. A better metaphor is comparing molybdenum to horse jockeys.

          1. I will try to keep that in mind.

    2. If you are a true libertarian, there are no frontiers.

    3. Oh, yeah, we’ve totally mapped out all 1.1 x 10^31 cubic light years of the observable universe. But the ocean remains a total mystery.

      1. The Oceans are stealing all the heat from mother Gaia so we shouldn’t like them as much as space anyway

        1. Space: the final there are no frontiers.

      2. But the ocean remains a total mystery.

        That was part of the deal that Kerry negotiated with the Elder Gods.

    4. More people have stood on Stanley Kubrick’s secret lunar stage than have visited the deepest trench in the ocean.

    5. It depends on what scale you are talking about. On a large scale, we know quite a lot about outer space because on a large scale, things are pretty simple and there is lots of nearly empty space. On a large scale, we know quite a bit about the deep ocean too, things like how deep it is and the general topography of the ocean floor. But at the scale at which we study things on earth, we know very little about the deep ocean and what lives there, etc. On smaller scales we also know very little about space. for example, the outer solar system is still quiet a mystery in a lot of ways. many billions of small objects are hypothesized to be out there, but we really haven’t directly observed very many of them.

      1. Go deep enough, and it’s not very exciting. I saw Cameron’s vanity film on his dive in the Challenger Deep, and it wasn’t looking very busy at the bottom.

        1. Hey, look! More mud!

          1. There’s some life down there, even of the macroscopic variety. But not like in shallower waters. And, of course, there’s the underwater domed city of Atlantis.

            1. I’m starting my own underwater city, I shall call it Mylanta.

              1. You’re upsetting my stomach.

        2. There isn’t a lot of excitement, but people used to think that the very deep abyss was lifeless. And the sort of medium-deep zones are full of life that is not very well known.

          1. Of course, it’s not an either-or proposition. Explore all of the above.

  12. That’s a planet, baby!

  13. Since we have just alerted the Plutonians to our presence, how long before they decide to invade and wipe us out?

    1. The Mi-Go already knew we were here.

    2. If they’re been watching us, they’re probably much more worried about us invading them.

      If you knew the Earthlings were watching, wouldn’t you hide everything underground?

      I mean, even the Iranians hide everything underground.

      1. “Mr. Inca, please tell me more about your golden palace.” – Francisco Pizarro

  14. When I opened the NASA TV livestream a little while ago I was able to see the historic footage of Senator Barbara Mikulski greeting a group of NASA bureaucrats. Certainly moving.

    1. Yeah, that stuff doesn’t excite me. Rather the opposite. It’s too bad the probe has to be so small and low-powered; otherwise, we’d be getting data all through the encounter (albeit delayed for 4+ hours).

    2. Yeah, most of what they do is an advertisement for more funding.

      1. Naturally. It’s what they do. Someday, universities and other research institutions (even–egad–corporations) can simply buy a rocket and shoot their payload wherever. That’s when we’ll really start understanding the solar system. We’re pretty limited now.

    3. If that’s not exciting enough for you then you can always hop over to ISSLive and keep tabs on how often the astronauts take a pee break.

  15. Never mind the temperatures, I understand Pluto’s atmosphere is awful. Full of carbon monoxide. That would make it worse than living in the arctic. At least in the arctic, you can breathe the atmosphere. And unlike in the arctic, there are no water bodies to speak of on Pluto. No fish, seals, whales, or other lifeforms to eat–no hope of survival, really.

    On the other hand, there aren’t any progressives on Pluto either, so I say we go for it!

    1. Sounds like the data indicates frozen methane and nitrogen on the surface. So you can do some ice skating.

      1. Unless someone invents the warp drive, space colonization is going to have to be sold on the basis of the vessel itself. It will need to be a ship where life aboard is so awesome, people don’t mind spending their whole lives in transit.

        The people born on ship in transit probably won’t mind–since it’ll be all they ever knew. In fact, it might be a problem getting them to leave the ship once they find a nice planet since they’ll be leaving those comforts of the ship behind–and everything they’ve ever known–in order to start a harder life on an uninhabited planet.

        1. Full immersion VR with haptic interfaces.

        2. Brin takes on this whole can of worms in Existence. He posits that life eventually replicates itself as virtual avatars and spams itself into the universe aboard portable computers.

          1. I don’t think you have to go that far. You don’t have to guarantee people that they’ll ever get to live on another planet during their own lifetimes.

            You start with a space hotel that people want to go to for fun.

            You start selling condos with the understanding that you’re going to go away forever and search for another planet eventually.

            When you’ve got the propulsion and the long term life support worked out and when you’ve got the right people with the right skills, you leave.

            You just have to persuade people that their lifetime spent aboard may be better than their lifetime spent on earth. It’s the same reasons people move from Detroit to North Carolina or join a church.

            1. Lots of people join a church without necessarily thinking that they’ll get to go to heaven during their own lifetimes.

              Expats leave the United States behind without any guarantees.

              You’re not going to appeal so much to the wildly successful and wealthy who have a lot to leave behind–but so what?

              1. Who wants to go to heaven when you can live on earth with its roads and all?

                1. But there aren’t any progressives in heaven–because they can’t steal.

                  Thou shalt not steal.

                  How awesome is that?

      2. Until you fall and the vents on your suit cause a rapid change in the methane.

        1. What happens when you mix methane with nitrogen?

          1. I was thinking the cooling fins on your nuclear powered suit would ignite the methane underneath you. IIRC somebody bought the farm in Forever War that way.

            1. Close. My recollection is they were warned about it during their first week on Charon. One woman died when she got stuck after planting an explosive and others died during the first combat drill.

    2. Pluto’s not the kind of place to raise your kids.

  16. Some of Clyde Tombaugh’s ashes are on the probe. That’s pretty fucking cool.

    1. You say that now, but when TOMNEWZONS comes back to punish the Earth, you’ll change your tune.

      It is cool. He has living children, I think, too.


        1. That’s what TOMNEWZONS will do. Cruise the universe destroying non-planet planets.

    2. I apparently misunderstood and thought there was going to be a portion of the probe jettisoned to the surface of Pluto; containing Mr Tombaugh’s ashes.

      1. Nah, that would compromise the probe to add something like that. His ashes just get to wave as the probe goes by. Until, several millennia from now, aliens restore him from his ashes.

        1. Any serious probe would sign up for advertising from the likes of KY or Astroglide to help pay for the mission.

    1. I fucking love science.


        1. What she meant to say was that she fucking loves Cylons.

          1. Nikki is an angel???

              1. An autistic boy’s dream of a snow globe?

                  1. Rosebud is an angel?

                    1. No, no, no, Rosebud is a prostitute. Don’t you watch classic movies?

      2. Too prim.


        *posts screencap from BBT*

  17. Space related: the new Neal Stephenson novel is a blast. If you’re into extended technical exposition, you’ll be into it.

    1. I was thinking about trying it. I loved Anathem, but boy did it take me a long time to become enamored of it. I kept having to tell myself there is a cool payoff in the end. And there definitely was.

      1. There’s hundreds and hundreds of pages about orbital dynamics and space engineering. It’s bliss.

      2. And then tons and tons of stuff about epigenetics. BLISS.

      3. I loved Anathem from start to finish. I didn’t know he has a new one out. Off to Amazon….

  18. Any guesses as to how long we have before New Horizons returns to Earth after being made self aware by a technologically superior machine civilization encountered in deep space and becoming hell bent on killing its creator?

  19. “Look, Pluto, we’re obviously not into you – we removed you from our planet list. All these love letters are beginning to see a bit creepy.”

    1. beginning to *seem*





    Sorry. I had to get it out of my system.

    1. I admire the buildings on the Acropolis, even if the system that built them was oppressive, including the slave labor. One can appreciate human achievements while deploring (to varying degrees) the methods. If the government weren’t spending so much money and regulating everything to death, we’d probably have a fucking colony on Titan by now.

      1. All aesthetic sensibility must subordinate itself to the whims of political opinion, if the political campaign is sufficiently obnoxious. Someday you, too, will be called upon to answer for your crimes against the political aesthetic.

        1. Naturally. A reeducation camp is featured prominently in my retirement planning.

    2. I’m sure we’d all rather see this done with private funding.

      NASA is like watching a fireworks display on the Fourth of July paid for by local government.

      Just because I’d rather those displays were paid for by private parties doesn’t mean I have to pretend those fireworks aren’t beautiful when they fill up the sky.

      A hot chick is still hot even if she works for the government.

      That’s NASA.

      1. True, although NASA would not be near the top of my list for eliminating government programs. Not near the bottom of the list either, but not the top.

    3. Life gets pretty annoying if you go around judging everything solely on political principle. If we are going to have our money taken and spent on things like this, might as well get what pleasure and interest you can from it.

      1. It’s all a fucking joke. You’re allowed to be critical of government but only if you pay in like a sucker and expect nothing in return. If you attempt to recapture dime one of your stolen earnings, or prefer seeing some of it spent on certain things over others, you’re a hypocrite. If you sup at the teat all your life and agitate for more spending, you’re a heroic social activist. If you’re a billionaire who makes a hobby of promoting leftist policies and politicians, you’re a patron saint of the Democratic party. A conservative who does the same is undermining democracy.

        Any claim to intellectual rigor the populist left might once have claimed has long since evaporated.

  21. Any claim to intellectual rigor the populist left might once have claimed has long since evaporated.

    Of course, all the things you list are part of why the populist left claims intellectual rigor.

  22. What would planet Bluto look like?

  23. Looks like Anne Heche’s butthole to me. Sing it with me.

    Anne Heche’s butthole,
    Anne Heche’s butthole,
    Anne Heche’s butthole,
    Let’s all go inside. (strum)

  24. Pluto means money–reason enough for mystical altruists to declare it an unplanet. Robert Heinlein loved plutonium as a basis for currency. Gold is not ideal in a nuclear age because it easily becomes highly radioactive, but everyone expects plutonium to be radioactive–and it is safer in the particles it emits than radioactive gold. But the plutophilous valentine image is sure to redouble the boiling wrath of kleptocrats and ex-scientists everywhere. The love of money–as offensive as love of freedom to them–will rankle.

  25. Arabs have already announced that it’s being illegally occupied by Jews.

  26. 4 hours to send a signal? At the speed of light? That is the speed that radio waves travel. Are they sending it by pigeon express, or what?

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