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

Well, hello, Pluto. Nice to finally meet you!

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."

Heroes

A new Harriet Tubman statue sculpted by Emmy and Academy award-winner Wesley Wofford has been revealed, and its symbolism is moving to say the least.

Harriet Tubman was the best known "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses that helped thousands of enslaved black Americans make their way to freedom in the north in the early-to-mid 1800s. Tubman herself escaped slavery in 1849, then kept returning to the Underground Railroad, risking her life to help lead others to freedom. She worked as a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, and after the war dedicated her life to helping formerly enslaved people try to escape poverty.

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Heroes

On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

Culture
via Kenneth Goldsmith / Twitter

The Hillary Clinton email scandal was a major right-wing talking point during the 2016 election that aimed to create an air of suspicion around the candidate.

The media played right into it turning Clinton — one of the most qualified candidates to ever run for the office — appear just as unworthy of the presidency as Trump, a vulgar, politically-inexperienced pathological liar.

The controversy surrounded Clinton's use of a private email account in which over 30,000 emails were sent during her time as Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. An FBI interrogation found there were 110 confidential emails sent from her private account.

Clinton was never criminally charged, however FBI director James Comey said she was "extremely careless."

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Democracy

Young people today are facing what seems to be greater exposure to complex issues like mental health, bullying, and youth violence. As a result, teachers are required to be well-versed in far more than school curriculum to ensure students are prepared to face the world inside and outside of the classroom. Acting as more than teachers, but also mentors, counselors, and cheerleaders, they must be equipped with practical and relevant resources to help their students navigate some of the more complicated social issues – though access to such tools isn't always guaranteed.

Take Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, for example, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years, and as a teacher for seven. Entering the profession, she didn't anticipate how much influence a student's home life could affect her classroom, including "students who lived in foster homes" and "lacked parental support."

Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

So what resources do teachers turn to in an increasingly fractured world? "Joining a professional learning network that supports and challenges thinking is one of the most impactful things that a teacher can do to support their own learning," Anglemyer says.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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