3 billion miles later, the first ever photo of Pluto's surface is here.

3 billion miles. That's quite a trek.

A star trek, if you will.


GIF from "Star Trek."

It's more than a million road trips from New York City to Los Angeles. Or, for those of you who'd get carsick, roughly 32 trips to the sun.

It's also about the distance between Earth and Pluto — a historic journey completed by NASA's New Horizons probe on July 14, 2015.

NASA launched the piano-sized spacecraft into space back in 2006 with the goal of capturing images very close to Pluto's surface.

The probe, called New Horizons, had been zooming toward the cold, mysterious dwarf planet at recording-breaking speeds ever since.

This second, the real New Horizons spacecraft (not the illustration above) is propelling thousands of miles per hour through space! Illustration courtesy of NASA.

As of July 14, 2015, we officially have our first up-close photos of the ex-planet.

And Pluto was more than ready for its close up.

Here's what New Horizons caught on camera:

Gorgeous Pluto! The dwarf planet has sent a love note back to Earth via our New Horizons spacecraft, which has traveled more than 9 years and 3+ billion miles. This is the last and most detailed image of Pluto sent to Earth before the moment of closest approach, which was at 7:49 a.m. EDT Tuesday - about 7,750 miles above the surface -- roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India - making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth. This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface. Images from closest approach are expected to be released on Wednesday, July 15. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI #nasa #pluto #plutoflyby #newhorizons#solarsystem #nasabeyond #science
A photo posted by NASA (@nasa) on

This photo — which took several hours to get from the New Horizons spacecraft to Earth — was taken at about 4 p.m. Eastern on July 13 and debuted on Instagram the morning of July 14. It marks the first of its kind taken of Pluto.

Pluto may look close (and it is, relatively speaking), but this image was snapped about 476,000 miles from the dwarf planet's surface!

"I'm thrilled," Katie Bechtold, a flight controller on the team, told Upworthy. "It's almost unbelievable that after all these years of hard work, our little piano-size robot is finally getting to show us Pluto."

That incredible image is part of a bigger mission to learn a lot more about the icy dwarf planet billions of miles away.

Sure, we know some things about Pluto. Take, for instance, gravity: It isn't as much of a thing there. If you weigh 100 pounds on Earth, you'd weigh 7 on Pluto! Or, consider its massive orbit around the sun: 248 Earth years = 1 Pluto year. And as far as its size? We're talking smaller than our own moon.

But New Horizons wants to dig deeper! Bechtold explained to Upworthy that New Horizons will hopefully give us Earthlings a more in-depth look into things like Pluto's composition, geology, atmosphere, and surface temperature. The probe will also check out Charon, the largest of Pluto's five known moons.

That's great, you might be thinking, but isn't that info sort of ... useless knowledge? No way!

Look how small Pluto is compared to Earth! The smaller round object is Charon, Pluto's largest moon. New measurements completed by New Horizons confirmed Pluto's small stature — its diameter is just 18.5% that of Earth's. Image by NASA.

A better glimpse at Pluto helps us understand our own home here on planet Earth.

For one, there's Pluto's unique atmosphere. It's escaping into space! And nothing like that is happening anywhere else in our solar system. But scientists think it used to happen here on Earth, too, when our atmosphere was hydrogen-helium (a long, long time ago). By studying Pluto, the team at New Horizons is hoping to better understand the evolution of our own atmosphere.

New Horizons may teach us more about comets, too. Pluto is in the Kuiper Belt — the outermost region of our solar system. This frigid "third zone" is where tons of cometary impactors come from, including — quite possibly — the one that wiped out the dinosaurs! Documenting the sizes of craters on Pluto and its moons may provide helpful context about comets and how they affect the planets around us.

The New Horizons mission hasn't just been a success for space exploration — it's been a big win for gender equality, too.

Bechtold, a self-proclaimed "intersectional geek feminist activist," said she's proud to be on a team where women have played critical roles in the group's success. Half of New Horizons' mission operations team is women. That may seem like no big deal, but considering the hurdles women face in science, tech, and math-related fields, it's an impressive feat.

The mission is one of the most female-driven space explorations in history, according to New Horizons.

It may be a man's world. But outer space is for women. Photo courtesy of NASA/New Horizons.

The mission is far from over, though. The team already has post-Pluto plans in mind.

The probe may be far away, but there's plenty to discover out there on the Kuiper Belt, such as thousands of comets and dwarf planets. A few of these objects — known as Kuiper Belt Objects, or KBOs — are possible flyby targets for the spacecraft in the coming years. The New Horizons team and NASA are working to nail down which one the probe can check out while it's near our solar system's peripheral. All the candidates are about a billion miles past Pluto!

Pending a few things, like NASA's approval and funding for the extended trip, the next phase in New Horizons' journey could begin in 2017.

So space nerds, rejoice! We may not have seen the last from what New Horizons has to offer.


GIF from "Star Trek."

Terence Power / TikTok

A video of a busker in Dublin, Ireland singing "You've Got a Friend in Me" to a young boy with autism is going viral because it's just so darn adorable. The video was filmed over a year ago by Terence Power, the co-host of the popular "Talking Bollox Podcast."

It was filmed before face masks were required, so you can see the boy's beautiful reaction to the song.

Power uploaded it to TikTok because he had just joined the platform and had no idea the number of lives it would touch. "The support on it is unbelievable. I posted it on my Instagram a while back and on Facebook and the support then was amazing," he told Dublin Live.

"But I recently made TikTok and said I'd share it on that and I'm so glad I did now!" he continued.

Keep Reading Show less
True

We're redefining what normal means in these uncertain times, and although this is different for all of us, love continues to transform us for the better.

Love is what united Marie-Claire and David Archbold, who met while taking a photography class. "We went into the darkroom to see what developed," they joke—and after a decade of marriage, they know firsthand the deep commitment and connection romantic love requires.

All photos courtesy of Marie-Claire and David Archbold

However, their relationship became even sweeter when they adopted James: a little boy with a huge heart.

In the United States alone, there are roughly 122,000 children awaiting adoption according to the latest report from the U.S Department of Health and Human Services. While the goal is always for a child to be parented by and stay with their biological family, that is not always a possibility. This is where adoption offers hope—not only does it create new families, it gives birth parents an avenue through which to see their child flourish when they are not able to parent. For the right families, it's a beautiful thing.

The Archbolds knew early on that adoption was an option for them. David has three daughters from a previous marriage, but knowing their family was not yet complete, the couple embarked on a two-year journey to find their match. When the adoption agency called and told them about James, they were elated. From the moment they met him, the Archbolds knew he was meant to be part of their family. David locked eyes with the brown-eyed baby and they stared at each other in quiet wonder for such a long time that the whole room fell silent. "He still looks at me like that," said David.

The connection was mutual and instantaneous—love at first sight. The Archbolds knew that James was meant to be a part of their family. However, they faced significant challenges requiring an even deeper level of commitment due to James' medical condition.

James was born with congenital hyperinsulinism, a rare condition that causes his body to overproduce insulin, and within 2 months of his birth, he had to have surgery to remove 90% of his pancreas. There was a steep learning curve for the Archbolds, but they were already in love, and knew they were committed to the ongoing care that'd be required of bringing James into their lives. After lots of research and encouragement from James' medical team, they finally brought their son home.

Today, three-year-old James is thriving, filled with infectious joy that bubbles over and touches every person who comes in contact with him. "Part of love is when people recognize that they need to be with each other," said his adoptive grandfather. And because the Archbolds opted for an open adoption, there are even more people to love and support James as he grows.

This sweet story is brought to you by Sumo Citrus®. This oversized mandarin is celebrated for its incredible taste and distinct looks. Sumo Citrus is super-sweet, enormous, easy-to-peel, seedless, and juicy without the mess. Fans of the fruit are obsessive, stocking up from January to April when Sumo Citrus is in stores. To learn more, visit sumocitrus.com and @sumocitrus.

via Pexels and @drjoekort / TikTok

Gay sex and relationships therapist Dr. Joe Kort is causing a stir on TikTok where he explains why straight men who have sex with men can still be considered straight. If a man has sex with a man doesn't it ultimately make him gay or bisexual?

According to Kort, there can be a big chasm between our sexual and romantic orientations.

"Straight men can be attracted to the sex act, but not to the man. Straight men having sex with men doesn't cancel somebody's heterosexuality any more than a straight woman having sex with a woman cancels her [heterosexuality]," he says in the video.

Keep Reading Show less
via Ken Lund / Flickr

The dark mountains that overlook Provo, Utah were illuminated by a beautiful rainbow-colored "Y" on Thursday night just before 8 pm. The 380-foot-tall "Y" overlooks the campus of Brigham Young University, a private college owned by the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), commonly known as Mormons.

The display was planned by a group of around 40 LGBT students to mark the one-year anniversary of the university sending out a letter clarifying its stance on homosexual behavior.

"One change to the Honor Code language that has raised questions was the removal of a section on 'Homosexual Behavior.' The moral standards of the Church did not change with the recent release of the General Handbook or the updated Honor Code, " the school's statement read.

Keep Reading Show less