Laurel, Maryland

This article is part of the Nature special: Pluto and Ceres.

The long wait is (presumably) over: NASA's New Horizons spacecraft was set to buzz by Pluto this morning (14 July) after a journey of more than nine years. Mission scientists will not know whether the spacecraft survived its close fly-bys of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, until roughly 9 p.m. Eastern time tonight. But it has been smooth sailing so far.

Nature was on the scene at New Horizons mission headquarters in Laurel, Maryland, this morning.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni


The science milestones for today’s fly-by, listed on a whiteboard in a planning area for New Horizons mission staff. You can see the closest approach to Pluto listed at 7:49:57 a.m. Eastern time.


The heart of Pluto

Pluto's bright white 'heart' stars in this photograph — the closest yet of the dwarf planet. New Horizons sent it back to Earth, from 5 billion kilometres away, on the night of 13 July before slipping into radio silence for 21 hours.

The New Horizons mission team released the picture this morning, just before New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto, passing roughly 12,500 kilometres from the dwarf planet.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni

Full house

Among the luminaries on hand for the flyby: Bill Nye 'the Science Guy', US science educator and television host.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni

The countdown clock

Scientists from the New Horizons mission and NASA, and lots of journalists, gathered at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, the site of mission control.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni

The long wait is almost over ...

The New Horizons spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 19 January 2006, more than nine years ago. It has been a long wait for mission's principal investigator, Alan Stern (pictured) of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni


The '80s pop hit ‘The Final Countdown’ blared in a packed auditorium as the moment of approach neared.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni

Congratulations all around

Stern and John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science and a former astronaut, celebrate as New Horizons makes its closest approach to Pluto.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni

The spacecraft hat makes an appearance

The signature headgear of the New Horizons mission made an appearance this morning. You’re not imagining things: that is a hat shaped like the New Horizons probe.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni

The data analysis begins

Fran Bagenal, a space physicist and mission co-investigator at the University of Colorado Boulder, explains the features of Pluto next to a model of the New Horizons spacecraft.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni

Pluto’s secrets revealed

Mark Showalter, a planetary scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, helped to discover several of Pluto’s moons. Here he explains features of the latest Pluto photograph released by the New Horizons mission.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni

The next generation of Pluto scientists?

Brothers Benjamin and Dylan Kanner, from Algonquin, Illinois, share the newest images of Pluto on their phones with each other at the fly-by event.

Credit: Chris Maddaloni