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It’s showtime for Pluto

Pluto is about to reveal itself. So Earthlings, sit back and enjoy the show.

On Tuesday, Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft will sweep past Pluto at 45 000 kilometres per hour and present the previously unexplored world in all its icy glory.

It promises to be the biggest planetary unveiling in a quarter-century. The curtain hasn’t been pulled back like this since Nasa’s Voyager 2 shed light on Neptune in 1989.


The New Horizons will perform its historic flyby at 12.49pm GMT on Tuesday. But scientists must wait until 2am GMT on Wednesday for the probe to make contact with Earth and confirm it has survived the encounter.

According to scientists, the most dangerous hazards for New Horizons are dust particles trapped in orbit around Pluto. A strike from a dust particle the size of a grain of rice could destroy the spacecraft, but the risk of such a disaster is low, at around one in 10 000, scientists say.


New Horizons has travelled 4.8 billion kilometres over 9½ years to get to this historic point. The fastest spacecraft ever launched, it carries the most powerful suite of science instruments ever sent on a scouting and reconnaissance mission of a new, unfamiliar world.


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