NASA has released new pictures of Pluto and one of its moons taken by the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on board the New Horizons spacecraft.
The images were taken from a distance of some 200 million km (124 million miles) away. At this distance, Pluto and one of its moons only appear as white blobs in the images.
Unfortunately there is not much science that can be done from this distance, however the scientists need to make sure that New Horizons is not on any collision course with debris that may be orbiting Pluto – Hitting the smallest object could spell disaster as the spacecraft moves through the region at 13km/s (8miles/s).
Clyde Tombaugh first discovered Pluto back in 1930. Today the images were release on what would have been his 109th birthday. The American astronomer died in 1997. His daughter said that “My dad would be thrilled with New Horizons. I’m sure it would have meant so much to him if he were still alive today.”
Longer image exposures are planned in the near future which should reveal other moons of Pluto and perhaps other debris which are gravitationally bound to Pluto.
New Horizons is scheduled to make its closest approach to Pluto on the July 14. At that time the spacecraft’s cameras will be able to capture surface details at fewer than 100m per pixel.
Pluto was the last planet in the classic 9. However in 2009 it was downgraded to a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union.