Nine-and-a-half years and 3 billion miles (4.8 billion kilometers) later, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has finally completed the first flyby of Pluto and its 5 known moons.
After a nail-biting 12 or so hours, the New Horizons team and a huge live audience was ecstatic when -- on Tuesday, July 14, starting around 8:54 pm U.S. eastern time -- they got a confirmation signal from the spacecraft that it had completed its flyby. New Horizons had phoned home to say it was alive and healthy, and several minutes ahead of schedule. The team had no communication with New Horizons at all on Tuesday as it took photos of Pluto and studied the dwarf planet and its moons. The spacecraft was pointing only at Pluto to save precious observation time.
For more about the status of the spacecraft, tune in to the live stream of NASA's news briefing. It starts at 9:30 p.m. eastern time.
Earlier today, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto at 7:49 a.m. eastern time about 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) above the surface. That’s about the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India. New, close-up images of Pluto’s surface and moons should be coming Wednesday afternoon!
Guests and New Horizons team members countdown to the spacecraft's closest approach to Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. NASA/Bill Ingalls
"Pluto was discovered just 85 years ago by a farmer's son from Kansas, inspired by a visionary from Boston, using a telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona,” John Grunsfeld of NASA's Science Mission Directorate says in a statement. "Today, science takes a great leap observing the Pluto system up close and flying into a new frontier that will help us better understand the origins of the solar system.”
Check out previous IFLScience coverage of the Pluto flyby:
Watch the briefing here: