The New Horizons mission has sent back its first photos here after 9 years and 1 month since launch. Onboard the LORRI craft, an 8.2-inch (20.8-centimeter) aperture focuses visible light to a charge-coupled device – a digital camera, that is to say, works with a telescope aimed directly at one of our furthest cousins in the Solar System: Pluto. February 4th (yesterday) also marks what would’ve been Clyde Tombaugh’s 109th birthday – Tombaugh is credited with first discovering Pluto all the way back in 1930.
The images you’re seeing today are only a glimpse of what we’ll see when the mission reaches its closest flyby point on July 14th, 2015. Images shown today were taken when the craft was more than 126 million miles (203 million kilometers) away from Pluto – so you can imagine why they’re not especially sharp.
What you’re seeing here are Pluto and its closest relative, also a moon, Charon. One image below shows a capture from July of 2014, the other shows an image captured just a few days ago – January 25th, 2015.
Image credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.
“LORRI has now resolved Pluto,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, “and the dwarf planet will continue to grow larger and larger in the images as New Horizons spacecraft hurtles toward its targets.”
“The new LORRI images also demonstrate that the camera’s performance is unchanged,” continued Weaver, “since it was launched more than nine years ago.”
“Pluto is finally becoming more than just a pinpoint of light.”
Above you’ll see Alden Tombaugh speak on his father’s accomplishments and how proud he would have been to see this day and this mission taking place.