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Plu(to)perfect

  A higher resolution image of Pluto taken by New Horizons July 13. Courtesy NAS.

A higher resolution image of Pluto taken by New Horizons July 13. Courtesy NAS.

Well, we have been to Pluto, so to speak, and it turns out to exceed the expectations even of us Plutonians. How could it not?

Pluto is no dull little rock but a world filled with texture characterized by icy mountains and geological activity. It’s Switzerland without the Lindt chocolates, the chalets, the cuckoo clocks, the secret bank accounts and, of course, the Roger Federer.

All kidding aside, the images of Pluto reconfirm that good things do indeed come in small packages and the best things in life are often the unexpected. The photographs also fill you with a certain sadness. We’re at the end of our solar system and it’s clear that at least as far as life is concerned, Earth is pretty much alone.

At the same time, you have to be filled with awe for the “eight planets” that have taken another bow as the distinctive New Horizons spacecraft, a kind of tin-foiled grand piano, whizzed through 4 billion miles and almost a decade – fleet little Mercury, pretty Venus, precious Earth, fiery Mars, big, turbulent Jupiter, ring-a-ding Saturn, windy Uranus, blue Neptune.

And now Pluto, the little planet that could. America has always had a soft spot in its heart for the tiny one, ever since a plucky American farm boy-turned-astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, discovered it in 1930. How wonderful was it that NASA named Pluto’s heart – Is Pluto great or what? – Tombaugh Regio, that some of his ashes are aboard the spacecraft and that his children, now senior citizens, were on hand for the New Horizons triumph.

Finally – for now – the Pluto mission is a reminder that for all that is rotten in humanity, it has the genius, the drive, the curiosity and, yes, the immense love to send a flying piano hurtling into space at 31,000 miles per hour to reach for something greater than ourselves.

Proving that the voyage outward begins with the journey within.