Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.
February 12, 1996
Pluto Not Yet Explored
Credit: NASA, JPL, Michael W. Carroll
Explanation: Cold, distant, Pluto is the only planet in our Solar System which has not been visited by a spacecraft from Earth. The story goes that the legend "Pluto Not Yet Explored" on a US postal stamp depicting the tiny, mysterious world inspired a JPL employee to develop plans for a Pluto flyby. These plans evolved into the current "Pluto Express" mission intended for launch early in the next decade. The type of small, high-tech spacecraft proposed is depicted above in an artist's vision approaching Pluto's mottled surface. A tenuous, transient atmosphere is visible as blue haze beyond the bright limb while Pluto's companion Charon looms in the distance. Images and data from such a mission would be an incredible boon to those studying these bizarre, inaccessible worlds as evidence mounts that Pluto itself is only the largest of many small ice dwarf mini-planets. Some have dubbed the yet unexplored Pluto-Charon system the last "astronomers' planet". Note: Pluto's discoverer, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, celebrated his 90th birthday on February 4.
Authors & editors:
NASA Technical Rep.: Jay Norris. Specific rights apply.
A service of: LHEA at NASA/ GSFC
&: Michigan Tech. U.