WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — High-resolution images of Pluto obtained from the New Horizons spacecraft have surpassed expectations, US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator John Grunsfeld said in a statement.
“Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations,” Grunsfeld said on Wednesday.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which was launched in 2006 to study Pluto, is the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.
The probe made contact with flight controllers just after 1:00 a.m. (GMT) on Wednesday morning after it flew 7,750 miles above Pluto’s surface, the closest distance of any previous mission.
Icy mountains on Pluto and a new high resolution view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries made so far, according to NASA.
“New Horizons is returning amazing results already,” Southwest Research Institute New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern said. "The data look absolutely gorgeous, and Pluto and Charon are just mind blowing."
It will take a total of 16 months for ‘New Horizons’ to send its ten years’ worth of cache of data back to Earth.
NASA Project Manager Glen Fountain said the New Horizons has reached its goal after nearly 15 years of planning, constructing and flying the spacecraft across the solar system.
NASA said the probe is part of several discovery and scientific research missions to help plan sending US astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.