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Behold the Most Distant Crescent Moon

Pluto's largest moon Charon crescent-lit by the Sun and reflected "Plutoshine" from Pluto. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Pluto’s largest moon Charon crescent-lit by the Sun and reflected “Plutoshine” from Pluto. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

At first glance this pixelated picture may not look all that spectacular, but it gains a whole new meaning when you realize what it’s actually showing: a look at the most distant crescent moon ever seen! But this isn’t Earth’s moon; it’s Charon, Pluto’s largest companion, lit by the light from a Sun 3.2 billion miles away—some of it even reflected off Pluto.

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New Horizons Has Caught Its First Color Pic of Pluto

Pluto and Charon imaged by New Horizons on April 9, 2015

Pluto and Charon imaged by New Horizons on April 9, 2015

In a historic first – just one of many that will be made over the next several months, to be sure! – the New Horizons spacecraft captured its first color image of Pluto and its partner/satellite Charon on April 9 from a distance of 71 million miles – about equivalent to that between Venus and the Sun. The orange blobs above are the two worlds locked in an orbital dance a mere 12,200 miles apart… that’s 20 times less than the distance between Earth and the Moon!

The image was captured with New Horizons’ “Ralph” instrument, a Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) built for the mission by Ball Aerospace (which is a spinoff of the same company that became famous in the U.S. for its glass canning jars.)

Ralph is one of six science instruments aboard New Horizons; it is paired with “Alice,” an ultraviolet imaging camera. (Think Ralph and Alice Kramden.) When New Horizons makes its close pass by Pluto and Charon on July 14 these cameras will capture details of the icy worlds like never before seen.

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