In 2006, Pluto was demoted from planet to “dwarf planet” status, a controversial decision that seemed to promise to sink the tiny celestial body into irrelevance. But Tuesday morning, a close-up photo of Pluto debuted on NASA’s Instagram account, elevating the underdog to perhaps one of the hippest chunks of rock and ice in the solar system.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which launched just months before Pluto’s demotion in 2006, has been hurtling toward the dwarf planet and its moons and sending photos back to Earth. The picture posted on Instagram Tuesday morning is the most detailed photo of Pluto’s surface that NASA has ever taken. The spacecraft captured the photo on Monday afternoon, “about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach,” NASA wrote in the Instagram caption.
NASA debuted the historic picture on Instagram an hour before releasing it on the agency’s own site. NASA social media manager John Yembrick told Wired that they “made an editorial decision to give the world a sneak peek of the image on Instagram” to engage new audiences. The account’s followers responded positively, lavishing more than 142,000 likes on the photo in its first three hours.
The spacecraft will take even closer photos of the dwarf planet’s surface Tuesday morning, and NASA will release those photos Wednesday. Not a bad turn-around for a photo taken more than 3 billion miles away.