I can't sleep tonight.
I try. I really do. But then I have to get up and stare at this amazing image from the New Horizons probe. And stare. It's hypnotic, it is!
What are we seeing here? It's Pluto (on the left) and its largest moon Charon. Click to enlarge it. You can make out the dark polar area nicknamed "Mordor" by the JPL folks on Charon and clearly see the "heart" of Pluto. But there's something more here, that keeps me coming back to this "space shot".
This image, of dwarf planet and over-sized moon, is the sum and substance of my childhood dreams of Solar System exploration. It's a double world revealed for the first time to humanity, a 'Star Trek' special effect, a 'Star Wars' matte painting, and every descriptive paragraph from every great science fiction novel ever written, all rolled up into one.
I can feel my pulse racing, heart pounding.
Every great human effort has a signature image. Lindbergh arriving in France, the Marines raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi, Apollo Eight's photo of "Earthrise" over the lunar horizon, Apollo Eleven's close-up of a boot-print on the lunar regolith, The Curosity rover's 'Johnny Five' Martian "selfie". Each an image to be instantly associated with a new frontier crossed, a new challenge met.
When the histories of 21st Century space exploration are written, this will be the signature image of the first encounter with the worlds of the Plutonian system. It will be an emblem; a marker indicating the finale of the first great exploration of the Solar System. Not the beginning of the end; this is only the end of the beginning.
Now, please excuse me while I stare.