Washington: NASA's unmanned spacecraft, New Horizons, has begun the most intense phase of its historic encounter with dwarf planet Pluto.
The New Horizons probe will make a close shave past Pluto today, July 14, after more than nine years and three billion miles of journey, offering scientists a detailed glimpse of the dwarf planet`s surface for the first time.
New Horizons, which is about the size of a baby grand piano, will make its closest approach to Pluto at 7:49 am (1149 GMT) today.
Besides other scientific data, the probe is set to grab a mass of images as it zips past the icy planet.
Apart from the dwarf planet, the New Horizons mission will also study the five moons of Pluto - Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra.
Currently moving at a speed of 30,800 miles (49,570 kilometers) per hour, the probe has been described as the fastest spaceship ever built.
The NASA probe is supposed to send a 'phone home' signal to Earth at 4:20 pm (2020 GMT), only when it has its trove of images safely in its onboard camera and that will take nearly five hours.
In that case, NASA won`t announce until about 13 hours after the flyby, at 9:02 pm (0102 GMT Wednesday), whether or not the spacecraft survived the high-speed encounter.
Ahead of its historic flyby of the icy planet, the American space probe has beamed back best ever photos of the Pluto, including its largest moon, Charon.
New Horizons, considered as a key moment in the history of space exploration, is the first ever spacecraft to do a flyby of the icy planet.