Pluto on Instagram
NASA allowed Instagram to publish this photo of Pluto before the rest of the world. The picture immediately went viral.

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.