The Pluto Perspective

Posted on July 9, 2020

Memories of an Amazing Encounter

The Overnight Team

John Spencer

New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist

Southwest Research Institute

So many memories of that amazing time, but one that stands out is being part of the small "overnight team" tasked with processing the highest-resolution image of Pluto sent back before the encounter, the night before closest approach. The image appeared about 12:30 a.m. EDT – Pluto revealed for the first time in enough detail to identify mountains, craters and geological faults. Decades of speculation replaced by reality in an instant.

We worked until 3:30 a.m. to make the version of the image that would be released later that morning and seen by millions around the world. But for a couple of hours we were the only people who knew what Pluto really looked like. I got about an hour's sleep that night, and made it through the festivities of encounter day purely on adrenaline.

Our first glimpse of the "Pluto revealed" image, on Project Scientist Hal Weaver's computer screen at 12:37 a.m. on July 14, 2015. (Credit: John Spencer)

"Overnight team" members (from left) Alex Parker, Tod Lauer, Carly Howett and Simon Porter begin processing the Pluto image, 12:46 a.m. on July 14, 2015. (Credit: John Spencer)

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