NASA's New Horizons teases with Pluto pic ahead of July flyby

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will be making a historic flyby of Pluto mid-summer this year, and it'll be capturing during the process humanity's first close up photographs (and relevant scientific data) of the planet. It will be three months from now before the spacecraft will shuttle its images of Pluto back to its creators on Earth, but in the meantime we've a relatively low resolution color image from the spacecraft, the first one it took of both Pluto and Charon, its moon.

The image, shown below and taken on April 9, is a nice tease for what is to follow, but it itself is a notable photo, being the spacecraft's first color image of the planet and its moon. New Horizons is said to be the "fastest spacecraft ever launched", and it has spent more than nine years traveling around space, exploring billions of miles.

The spacecraft will be flying by Pluto and its moons on July 14, getting close-up photographs of the system. The space agency says this flyby will also be opening up the researchers to a so-called third zone containing "mysterious small planets" and the building blocks of such in the Kuiper Belt.

Said associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate John Grunsfeld, "In an unprecedented flyby this July, our knowledge of what the Pluto systems is really like will expand exponentially and I have no doubt there will be exciting discoveries."