NASA spacecraft captures first ever color photo of Pluto


NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft recently captured humanity’s first ever glimpse of Pluto and its moon Charon in full color from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers).

nh-payloadAlthough the photo taken by New Horizons’ Ralph color imager offers little more than a pair of yellowish-brown smudges, this is a historic event that is just the first of many increasingly clearer views of Pluto and its many moons to come.

New Horizons is set to reach and flyby Pluto sometime this July, beaming back tons of fascinating never-before-seen close up color images of Pluto and its many moons. While plans to orbit Pluto are impossible given the dwarf planet’s minuscule gravitational pull and the extraordinary speed at which New Horizons is traveling (at more than 50,000 kph, or 31,000 mph), planetary scientists are already salivating in anticipation of the tomes of new data this speeding probe will be capturing.

What to expect from New Horizons as it flies past Pluto

To maximize the accuracy of data New Horizons is expected to collect, the full brunt of the probe’s observational prowess will not kick in until it nears its closest point to Pluto, which will be 12,500 kilometers (7,750 miles) from the dwarf planet’s surface. As it approaches and speeds past Pluto, the probe will capture “100 times as much data on close approach as it can send home before flying away.” In fact, it’ll take at least 16 months to send back all the data New Horizons collects.

Our team has worked hard to get to this point, and we know we have just one shot to make this work. We’ve plotted out each step of the Pluto encounter, practiced it over and over, and we’re excited the ‘real deal’ is finally here.Alice Bowman, New Horizons mission operations manager

Ever since New Horizons was launched back in 2006, NASA/ESA instruments have discovered four additional moons orbiting Pluto, with a few more suspected and awaiting confirmation once more data is collected.

According to New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver at APL, “New Horizons is one of the great explorations of our time. There’s so much we don’t know, not just about Pluto, but other worlds like it. We’re not rewriting textbooks with this historic mission – we’ll be writing them from scratch.”

About Author

Kristian strives to enlighten and entertain readers. In addition to his teaching and editorial responsibilities, he is working on a science-fiction novel that promises not to include exoskeleton suits and anemic aliens floating in mysterious vats of green-tinted goop.


    • Kristian Markus on

      The mission was approved in 2001, and launched in 2006. Thanks for highlighting this typo.

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