After more than nine years of rocketing outwards through the Solar System, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is now zeroing in on its targets: the dwarf planet Pluto and its family of frozen moons, orbiting the Sun over three billion miles away from Earth.
The images above show Pluto and its largest moon Charon on January 25 and 27, captured by the spacecraft’s LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Orbiter) camera. These are the first pictures of the two worlds to be taken during the approach phase of the mission (which New Horizons officially began in on Jan. 15.)
“Pluto is finally becoming more than just a pinpoint of light. LORRI has now resolved Pluto, and the dwarf planet will continue to grow larger and larger in the images as New Horizons spacecraft hurtles toward its targets.”
– Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
What’s more, these images were released on Feb. 4, which is the birthday of Pluto’s discoverer Clyde Tombaugh (1906–1997).
This July New Horizons will become the first spacecraft ever to make a close pass of Pluto, revealing it in intimate detail for the first time. These LORRI images are just a tiny tease at what’s in store!