Vive la France and vive Pluto.
Tomorrow, July 14, Bastille Day (alias the Frenchy Fourth of July), New Horizons spacecraft will do its Pluto flyby. NASA TV will have a live broadcast from 7:30 to 9 a.m. EDT. But here’s the thing: We won’t know if the flyby has been successful – or if the probe, which looks like a grand piano wrapped in gold and silver foil, has hit debris and exploded – until 8:53 p.m. EDT when we get our first bit of data. We’ll get our first look at Charon, Pluto’s rival moon, at 7 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 15. (Remember that Charon in Greek mythology is the ferryman who delivers the dead to Hades, or Pluto, lord of the underworld, so it’s all good in terms of keeping our mythological ducks in a row.) We’re also going to get a gander at Hydra, another of Pluto’s five moons. (And another Greco-Roman mythological reference: The Hydra was the seven-headed monster Herakles, or Hercules, had to battle.) Then at 3:25 p.m. Wednesday, finally, it’s Pluto time, with the little planet that could showing us its heart. (No, Pluto, we heart you.)
In an age of instant communication, how will we Earthlings bear the wait? Apparently, with the many Plutopalooza parties that are taking place at planetariums (and, we guess, more than a few bars).
We Plutonians, meanwhile, can give ourselves a nice pat on the back. Pluto was demoted to dwarf status. It was said to be just another object in the Kuiper Belt. But now it looks as if Pluto is bigger than we thought and first among equals in the Kuiper Belt. Plus, the rocky little guy is being given rock-star treatment. Our faith has been rewarded.
And, if we can hold out a little while longer, it will be rewarded still.