Probably by now most of you have already seen this image, from the New Horizons probe, showing the remarkable heart-shaped feature on the surface of the King of the Kuiper Belt.
'Remarkable' is fairly weak tea, but my personal stock of superlatives has long since been worn down by the eye candy sent back from our ongoing preliminary reconnaissance of the Solar System. So it will have to do.
And I think we can declare Pluto's pity party to be officially over. Future generations of schoolkids will not remember that the largest member of the Kuiper Belt was once classed as the ninth* 'major' planet - and will be increasingly aware that there are planetary systems out there that would scoff at even mighty Jove.
* For much of my adult life, in fact, Pluto was not the ninth anything, since for a quarter century or so its orbit carried it sunward of Neptune.If anything, some of those kids might be puzzled by old books, including much rocketpunk-era (and later) SF, that called it simply the ninth planet, back before anyone came up with our current subcategories.
Most of all, we can now officially add the Kuiper Belt to the list of places we've been, albeit so far only vicariously. Going there in person will be a demanding mission, and a ways down the road. Well before that time comes, we will return to our previously scheduled discussion of Earth's orbital space. Previous missions have passed through the Kuiper Belt, but New Horizons went there specifically to take a look-see. And the heart on Pluto is one of the first things we saw.
The image was snagged from Sky & Telescope.
We previously considered Pluto here, while it also came up incidentally in an amusing context. And even the phrase 'heart of the Kuiper Belt' got a previous outing here, albeit in a different sense and context, not specific to Pluto.