Astronomy Picture of the Day

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.

Tomorrow's picture: 7,000 Stars And The Milky Way

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