NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft snapped images of Pluto from a distance of 70 million miles using a Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera with a telescopic lens as it journeys to its rendezvous with the dwarf planet.
Already scientists can see that Pluto has broad surface markings – some bight and some dark – including a bright area at one pole that could be a polar cap.
Also captured in the images is Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, which has a 6.4-day long orbit. The spacecraft was unable to take an image that shows Pluto’s four much smaller moons.
Pluto was discovered in 1930 and is more than 3 billion miles from Earth.
The New Horizon spacecraft will pass about 7,800 miles above the surface of the planet in mid-July.
The New Horizons features a seven-instrument science payload that includes advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a compact multicolor camera, a high-resolution telescopic camera, two powerful particle spectrometers, and a space-dust detector. The vehicle actually started its scrutiny of the Pluto system on January 15.
The spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto will occur on July 14. However, by mid-May we should be getting better images of Pluto than the Hubble Space Telescope has been able to offer.