The images come on the 109th birthday of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto in 1930
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has sent some amazing images of Pluto, which is about five billion kilometers away from the Earth. The probe continues to make way towards an encounter with the icy dwarf planet. The New Horizons was more than 203 million kilometers away from Pluto when it started taking images, NASA said in a statement.
Tombaugh would have been thrilled with New Horizons
Though the images show Pluto only as a dot along with its largest moon Charon, they come on the 109th birthday of the man who discovered it. American astrologer Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in 1930. He died in 1997, but his daughter Annette Tombaugh said that Clyde would have been “thrilled with New Horizons.” He would have been astounded to actually see the distant dwarf planet that he had discovered.
The images were captured by New Horizons’ telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on January 25 and 27. The spacecraft is expected to reach Pluto by July 14, 2015. Starting May, New Horizons will begin returning much clearer images that would be better than anything from the Hubble Space Telescope.
New Horizons has traveled more than 3 billion miles
New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said that these images of the dwarf planet are definitely better than those the spacecraft took last July from twice as far away. These early images may not be of great help to scientists. Researchers will use them to maneuver New Horizons and make sure that the probe is moving in the right direction for its historic encounter with Pluto in July.
Over the next few months, LORRI will take hundreds of images of the dwarf planet to refine the controllers’ estimate of the spacecraft’s distance to Pluto. Hal Weaver, a New Horizons project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University, said that Pluto is now more than just a pinpoint of light. It will continue to grow larger and larger as New Horizons moves towards its target.
Launched in 2006, the probe has traveled more than 3 billion miles. It is closing in on Pluto at about 30,000 miles per hour.