Small, cold, and absurdly far away, Pluto has always been selfish with its secrets. Since its discovery in 1930, the dwarf planet has revolved beyond reach, its frosty surface a blurred mystery that even the most powerful telescopes can’t bring into focus. We know about Pluto. But we don’t really know it.
That will change on July 14, when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to fly within 8,000 miles of the frozen dwarf. It’s a risky maneuver, but if all goes well, the fleeting close encounter will unveil the last of the classical solar system’s unexplored worlds. We’ll finally get to meet the former ninth planet face-to-face—to really see its surface and that of its largest moon, Charon. Scientists have some guesses about what they might find, but the only thing they can say for sure is that Pluto promises to be a surprise. (Read more on Nadia Drake’s blog at National Geographic, No Place Like Home.)
“The Pluto we imagined will just go away like smoke,” says Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator.