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MIT Astronomer Was 'Gasping For Air' After Seeing Historic Pluto Flyby

BOSTON (CBS) – At 5:45 a.m. Tuesday thousands of scientists on NASA's New Horizons team got the clearest glimpse of one-time planet Pluto up close.

The picture was transmitted from a spacecraft which left earth 9.5 years ago. This is the clearest color image our world has ever seen of Pluto.

"The initial reaction was just gasping for air just at how bizarre Pluto looked," Dr. Richard Binzel said.

Binzel is a professor of Astronomy at MIT and helped design the spacecraft.

"For many of us this is a day we've dreamed about for most of our professional careers and it's surreal that it's finally arrived," said Binzel.

NASA posted a picture of Binzel's reaction on its website.

The hashtag #flybyPluto was trending all morning.

The first up close image of Pluto. (Image Credit: NASA)

"We hope by reaching this unreachable frontier that it inspires everyone especially the young kids. We think this is the Apollo moment of our generation," Binzel said.

Binzel will help researchers understand the images from New Horizons. He says this mission will reveal new realms of our solar system, space exploration, and the topography of this far away planet.

While the educational aspect of this mission matters to him, he says inspiring the younger generation is more important.

"Just the inspiration of that human spirit of exploration the insatiable curiosity we have as a species I hope that gets into the minds and hearts of every kid around the world," he said.

The New Horizons spacecraft "phoned home" at about 9:00 p.m. Tuesday night to say mission accomplished.

Researchers say they will continue to receive images from this spacecraft through October of 2016.

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