For now, Pluto looks like a small dot along Charon, its closest moon. The new images of Pluto coincide with the 109th birthday of the scientist who discovered the distant planet in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh.
The New Horizons spacecraft started to take photos of Pluto when it was at a distance of more than 126 million miles (approximately 203 million km) away from it.
The latest photos were taken using the LORRI telescope. LORRI stands for “Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager”.
The new images were captured on January 25 and January 27 and are the first ones New Horizons has taken during its 2015 approach to Pluto. The mission will last until July 14, when it will culminate with the spacecraft flying by Pluto and its surrounding moons.
Alan Stern is the lead investigator in charge of New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He said that the latest images of Pluto are the team’s birthday tribute to Pluto’s discoverer, Professor Tombaugh and his family. The team wanted to honor the Professor’s discoveries and his scientific life achievements.
According to Stern, Professor Tombaugh’s contribution to science is extremely important to the planetary astronomy of the 21st century.
New Horizons spacecraft will take hundreds of images of Pluto over the next few months using the LORRI telescope. This will help the scientists make an approximate estimation of the distance between the spacecraft and the dwarf planet.
These photos can help the mission navigators to design special course-correcting engine maneuvers that will direct New Horizons for a more precise approach.
The first maneuvers of this kind which are based on optical navigation photos, are scheduled for March 10.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is traveling with a speed of 31,000 mph and has managed to cover more than 3 billion miles since it began its mission on January 19, 2006.
The spacecraft has managed to cross in record time the orbit of every planet, from Mars to Neptune.
Image Source: nbcnews