NASA, in an apparent attempt to reach younger would-be astronomers, released the first surface images of Pluto on Instagram just before releasing them to the public on With 3.6 million followers, NASA is already as popular on Instragram as a number of big celebrities. That popularity will only continue to grow, though, as the space agency completed its 3 billion mile journey Tuesday.

The photo, which earned over 100,000 likes in less than an hour, is the culmination of a nine-year journey to the icy body located more than 3 billion miles away from Earth. The picture was posted on Instagram at 7:49 a.m. EDT, immediately going viral before officially being released to and the rest of the media at 8:00 a.m. EDT.



“We made an editorial decision to give the world a sneak peek of the image on Instagram,” NASA social media manager John Yembrick told Wired. “We feel it's important to engage new audiences.”

NASA also used the Twitter account @NASANewHorizons to live-tweet the agency's first trip to Pluto using the hashtag #PlutoFlyBy That hashtag yielded a flurry of insight from opther experts, both affiliated with NASA or not.