Pluto First Contact Immortalized in Iconic Image on Instagram (How Else?)

Yesterday, as the New Horizons spacecraft rocketed past Pluto on its closest approach, NASA posted the best image of the dwarf planet yet. Where? On Instagram.

In what’s sure to become an iconic image, we see Pluto up close and personal for the first time. The largest feature, informally known as the “heart” is approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across.

In the almost decade since New Horizons left Earth, a lot has changed. Its destination, for example, was still our ninth planet (no more, of course). Facebook was a toddler. And Twitter, Instagram, and smartphones (as we know them today) didn’t exist.

Although the spacecraft’s technology itself is getting a little long in tooth, back here on the ground, things have advanced at a very fast pace. Not long after New Horizons snapped its iconic image three billion (very chilly and lonely) miles from Earth—it was transmitted to smartphones around the globe via Instagram (even before it was posted on

And then, of course, it made the rounds on other social networks and the web.

If telescopes and spacecraft like New Horizons extend humankind’s vision beyond our biological limits into the space, smartphones and the Internet widely distribute the viewfinder. Many of those who first saw Pluto yesterday weren’t gathered around TV sets or gazing at scrolling tickers in Times Square—they were in bed or on the train or at a desk, glancing at Pluto in high-def, sandwiched in between selfies of friends.

That’s more than a little surreal.

In any case, it’s big news, and we’d be remiss not pay tribute. Find some of our favorite images so far below, and come on back a little later. We’ll post the best images of the flyby (which by all accounts went as planned) when NASA releases them later today.

[UPDATE] NASA released two new images taken by New Horizons on its Pluto flyby (see below) and a GIF montage on Instagram of our evolving view of Pluto—from the very earliest images to today’s most detailed pics. (Go here for more information on today’s release.)

Pluto and its biggest moon, Charon. It’s thought the system formed in a collision billions of years ago.
Pluto and Charon side-by-side gives us a sense of their relative size and coloring (distance between them not to scale).
This false color image of Pluto and Charon next to each other shows their compositional diversity (distance between them not to scale).

NASA’s Evolving Views of Pluto NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew within 8,000 miles of dwarf planet Pluto on 14 July 2015. Our view of this cold, previously unexplored world, 4.67 billion miles from Earth, has evolved since its discovery by Clyde W. Tombaugh in 1930. This short clip shows images from Tombaugh, Hubble and New Horizons over the years, arranged to illustrate improvements in resolution. The final close-up image pf Pluto’s surface was taken about 1.5 hours before New Horizons closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 478,000 miles (770,000 kilometers) from the surface of the planet. The image easily resolves structures smaller than a mile across. Credit: NASA/Goddard #PlutoFlyby #nasagoddard #Pluto

A video posted by NASA Goddard (@nasagoddard) on


These 11,000-foot mountains are likely comprised of Pluto’s water-ice “bedrock.” The mountains may be no more than 100 million years old, making them relative youngsters and suggesting Pluto is still geologically active. The image resolves structures less than a mile across.
This image of Charon reveals a surprisingly crater-free surface, also hinting at geological activity. The canyon clearly visible in the top right is believed to be four to six miles deep. In high-contrast areas, the image resolves features as small as three miles across.

Image Credit: NASA

Jason Dorrier
Jason Dorrier
Jason is editorial director of Singularity Hub. He researched and wrote about finance and economics before moving on to science and technology. He's curious about pretty much everything, but especially loves learning about and sharing big ideas and advances in artificial intelligence, computing, robotics, biotech, neuroscience, and space.
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