This Is a Spacecraft's First Color Pic of Pluto

New Horizons will have much sharper ones soon
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 15, 2015 12:20 AM CDT
Updated Apr 15, 2015 6:49 AM CDT
This Is a Spacecraft's First Color Pic of Pluto
This photo of Pluto and its moon Charon was sent back by the New Horizons spacecraft on April 9.   (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Pluto and Charon, its Texas-sized moon, are still just blobs in what NASA says is the "first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach," but they're a sign of very exciting things to come. After nine years and 2.9 billion miles, the New Horizons spacecraft is now only 71 million miles away from the dwarf planet and will start sending back much clearer pictures starting next month, reports Vox, which notes that every photo the probe takes in the months before its July 14 flyby will be the best one ever taken of Pluto.

The Pluto flyby will mean that every one of the "classical nine" planets has been visited by a space probe, reports the BBC, which calls the mission the biggest space event of the year—and the first of its kind since Voyager 2's 1989 Neptune encounter. The spacecraft is "carrying a scientific arsenal of seven instruments that are, combined, the most powerful suite of instruments ever brought to bear on the first reconnaissance of a new planet," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern says. "Nothing like this has been done in a quarter of a century and nothing like this is being planned again by any space agency. This is a real moment in time for you to watch us turn a point of light into a planet." (The public has been invited to help name features of Pluto that the spacecraft detects.)

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