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Over 9 years and 3.26 billion miles: Pluto fly-by Tuesday is out of this world

For scientists, it wa's like Christmas in July as the New Horizons spacecraft closed in on Pluto.
/ Source: TODAY

Ah, Pluto! We humans may no longer recognize you as a full planetary member of our solar system, but that doesn't mean we're not excited about having your close-up picture.

And on Tuesday, we got it, thanks to the New Horizons spacecraft launched 10 years ago that is coming closer to the distant dwarf planet than anyone has ever been: 8,150 miles. That may not sound like it's very close, but when you live 3.6 billion miles apart (roughly), that's practically a fist-bump.

Needless to say, NASA scientists are really excited, posting this image of Pluto:

(Notice the "heart" image on its lower right side? How adorable can a dwarf planet be?)

In the caption, they added, "This stunning image of the dwarf planet was captured from New Horizons at about 4 p.m. EDT on July 13, about 16 hours before the moment of closest approach. The spacecraft was 476,000 miles (766,000 kilometers) from the surface."

NASA scientists will be answering all kinds of Pluto and New Horizons-related questions throughout the morning in a Twitter chat; just use the hashtag #AskNASA.

Meanwhile, their excitement is palpable:

And they're not the only ones. Google's Doodle honors the fly-by today:

While Twitter users are trying to encompass the scope of the achievement in just 140 characters:

And some are clearly just joking around:

New Horizons was launched in January 2006, a couple of months before Twitter even existed — but it's likely that social media will be integral to sharing the experience of passing by the ex-planet by millions.

Quite an out-of-this-world achievement, literally. Congrats to NASA, and hello to Pluto! We still love you, in our own lopsided-heart way.

Follow Randee Dawn on Google+ and Twitter.