One of the final images taken before New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto. One of the final images taken before New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto. One of the final images taken before New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto. (Photo: NASA)

After historic Pluto flyby, scientists eager to meet

As photos wow Earthlings, scientists look to next steps at upcoming conference in Israel.

Bleary-eyed Americans awoke this morning to more than just the sun outside their window. They were also treated to unprecedented views of Pluto.

After nine years and 3 billion miles, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft zoomed past Pluto and its five moons this morning. During the flyby, the spacecraft snapped the closest images of the dwarf planet that we've ever seen.

Videos of cheering scientists and ebullient space geeks rocketed around social media Tuesday. "I am feeling humbled and awed, all at once," wrote "Star Trek" actor George Takei on his Facebook wall, where he has 8.7 million fans.

Bryan DeBates, director of education at the Colorado Springs-based Space Foundation, was also awestruck this morning. "As an educator and an Earthling, I thought it was absolutely amazing," he told From The Grapevine. "It's exciting. It's amazing to think that our reach can go that far. To see the actual pictures, it's thrilling."

Members of the New Horizons science team react to seeing the spacecraft's sharpest image of Pluto on July 14, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland.Members of the New Horizons science team react to seeing the spacecraft's sharpest image of Pluto on July 14, 2015, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. (Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

Once the initial "gee-whiz" factor wanes, scientists will have lots to discuss. The first big space conference to take place after today's historic photo shoot will be held this October in Israel at the 66th International Astronautical Congress at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem. The four-day event, which will host 2,000 scientific demonstrations, is being organized by the Paris-based International Astronautical Federation.

The theme for this year's event is "Space: The Gateway for Mankind's Future" and hopes to include such topics as how space exploration can be used as a tool for international cooperation and how to inspire the scientists of tomorrow.

DeBates was a featured speaker at last year's conference in Toronto, where he picked up the prestigious Frank J. Malina Astronautics Medal, the top International award for aerospace education. The award was first given to teacher-turned-astronaut Christa McAuliffe posthumously in 1986.

DeBates thinks today's Pluto photos will be a hot topic at the upcoming Israel event. "By October, we're going to have a lot more data than just the pictures," he explains. "We're going to understand a little bit about why Pluto looks the way it does, why it has that red tint. I think by then we will have processed some of that data and drawn some conclusions. People are going to be talking about this for a long time to come."

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