by Alexa (age 9, @KNEstemGirls)

Image result for pluto pictures new horizons heart
Pluto’s “Heart”. Source NASA

For 20 years, NASA has been planning and waiting for the exciting Pluto Flyby. Launching into space on January 19, 2006 – before I was born – New Horizons took 9 years to travel 7.8 billion kilometers to get to Pluto. To put that in perspective, that is 13.3 times as far as the gas giant Jupiter, which is only 588 million kilometers away.

In July 2015 New Horizons made the closest approach to Pluto ever! NASA hopes to learn a lot about it. So far, we’ve discovered that Pluto has ice mountains about 3 km high, flowing ice made of nitrogen, a diameter of 2,370 km (about the size of the USA), and even has a cute “heart” on its “butt”. Interestingly, Charon (1 of Pluto’s moons) probably formed the same way as our moon (something struck Pluto smashing pieces off of Pluto which formed Charon).

Pluto has also generated lots of questions. For example, half of the atmosphere on Pluto has disappeared in the past 2 years, which scientists believe may be because it is moving away from the sun. Charon’s surface is also smoother than we expected. It should have lots of craters because it is in the Kuiper belt, so what is making the surface so smooth? Also, Charon has a dark pole/spot (nicknamed Mordor) consisting of some unknown material.

The NASA scientists will be busy with the New Horizons data for some time. Due to the slow speed of transmitting data through space, it will take almost 16 months to just get all of the data back to earth.  I can’t wait to learn more about what they find out!