Hi Pluto, Bye Pluto
Today, a porcupined jumble of antennae, sensors, cameras, and gold foil will hurtle past a lonely rock at the moderately astonishing speed of 36,373 miles per hour. That far-away rock is the artist formerly known as the Planet Pluto.
Pluto—a sphere of matter now titled by the diminished sobriquet of “dwarf planet”—owns the extraordinary distinction of being the last unphotographed planet of our classical solar system.
While the decades since the space race have seen humanity’s physical presence reduced to a shallow orbit 250 miles above the surface, our probes have scattered far into the solar wind. All of the planets and all of their major moons have now been imaged and studied by a squadron of spacecraft and rovers. All but Pluto.
Pluto has a diameter of 1473 miles—less than the flying distance between Los Angeles and Mexico city—and a Nitrogen atmosphere, but beyond what can be deduced from a spectroscope and some incredibly blurred images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, we know almost nothing about him. But now, after a journey of over nine years, the New Horizons space probe approaches for a fleeting drive-by.
Space Exploration is the highest of all human pursuits because it elevates us the furthest from the baseness of human triviality. Death, wealth, poverty, power, love—none of these seem to have any meaning beyond the cozy confines of our thin breath of atmosphere. Our civilization expands its boundaries into a vacuum of infinite disinterest, and we take only what we choose to bring.
Alexander The Great wept when there were no worlds left to conquer. New Horizons hurtles past Pluto towards an endless horizon. In space we must dry our eyes and accept that there will always be stones left to turn—that the larger dwarf planet Eris lies three times further than Pluto; that the nearest star Alpha Centauri lies almost 3000 times further still…
The endless night cares nothing for humans, but Space Exploration shows us that we can be mature enough for that not to matter.
Written by Gus Donohoo