On Bastille Day, July 14, 1789, the great Parisian prison was set ablaze as a mob, enraged into a fury, lit the spark that set off the French Revolution. Two and a quarter centuries later, on another Bastille Day, a different kind of revolution began as humanity made a great leap forward by sending a small spacecraft past the planet Pluto. On this Bastille Day the American spacecraft New Horizons zipped by Pluto in humanity’s first encounter with that mysterious and famous world.   Unlike some of the modern probes that have succeeded in orbiting worlds like the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, and the planet Saturn, New Horizons performed a fast flyby of Pluto. Therefore, its only opportunity to get good pictures spanned a period of slightly more than a day; before the encounter spacecraft stopped transmitting anything to Earth and concentrated on its job. Once it was safely past Pluto, it relayed a simple message that it accomplished its tasks.

I couldn’t have been at a better spot to enjoy this encounter, the 12th annual Adirondack Astronomy Retreat at Twin Valleys Camp near Lewis, New York. The camp is owned by the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, and the place is fantastic. Early in the morning after the encounter, I was waylaid by some of the amateur astronomers who had studied the biography I had written years earlier of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto in 1930. They were so fascinated with the simplicity and complexity of the man that they recommended that Wendee and I produce a movie about his life. Much as we appreciated the thought, Wendee and I are not cinematographers, and there we had to let the idea rest.

The day of the flyby of the Pluto system was the cloudiest day of this year’s event. Some of the nights had clouds, but we did enjoy several starry nights. A few months ago, the Skywatcher company donated a lovely 16 inch-diameter telescope to our retreat, and it saw good use this year. The telescope is named Enterprise after the fictional starship, and several of the participants managed to use it. I was particularly happy that Carl Jorgensen, a close friend for over 50 years, was able to make it this year after he fell on some ice one shivery day last Christmas. He got to use Enterprise several nights and he enjoyed revisiting the famous double stars, open and globular clusters, and distant galaxies that he always loved to see all these years.

As New Horizons moves ever farther from Pluto into the depths of interplanetary space, we are left also with the best of feelings from a starry sky none of us will soon forget.

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David Levy