“New Horizons” Probe Takes First Picture From Pluto


Pluto is a reddish color. Until now that was largely an assumption, but a new probe photo confirms that is indeed the case.

The New Horizons probe has just taken its first photo of Pluto, as shown above. It’s a bit blurry, which is excusable as it was taken from 115 million kilometers away. Much better images will follow as it approaches Pluto and passes within 7,750 miles on July 14. That fly-by will complete a full house of space probes visiting the nine major orbiting bodies of the solar system.

Of course photos of Pluto do already exist thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, but those shots are actually captured as monochrome data. The colors are added artificially. In some cases they are assigned to simulate what astronomers believe the human eye would see if it had the same level of magnification as the telescope. In other cases the chosen colors aren’t intended to reflect reality, but instead used to enhance distinctive features or highlight features that wouldn’t be visible to the human eye.

The picture also depicts Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, which is clearly darker than the dwarf planet. New Horizons will also image Charon, answering questions about its atmosphere and possible “interior ocean.”

Alan Stern, the principal investigator for the project, was not exactly understated in a NASA news release, noting “This is pure exploration; we’re going to turn points of light into a planet and a system of moons before your eyes!”

Indeed, the project has expanded significantly since it began in 2001 with the intention of exploring Pluto and Charon, which at the time was the only known moon of Pluto. Two more moons were discovered before the probe launched, with a further two discovered while it has been en route.

The plan is to capture so much data during the fly past that only around one percent will be sent back to Earth before New Horizons starts moving away from Pluto. The most important data will come back first, but it will take 16 months to transmit everything.


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