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Pluto-bound Spacecraft Spots Charon

Pluto and Charon: New Horizons LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) composite image showing the detection of Pluto’s largest moon, Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has spotted the ice-covered moon, Charon.

The largest of Pluto’s five known moons, Charon orbits about 12,000 miles (more than 19,000 kilometers) away from Pluto itself.

New Horizons spacecraft used its highest-resolution telescopic camera to image Pluto’s Texas-sized moon.

In one of the above images, Pluto and Charon are circled: Pluto is the brighter object near the center and Charon is the fainter object near its 11 o’clock position.

According to New Horizons scientists, this represents a major milestone on the spacecraft’s 9½-year journey to conduct the initial reconnaissance of the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt. In a sense, the imagery begins the mission’s long-range study of the Pluto system.

When images were taken on July 1 and July 3, 2013, the New Horizons spacecraft was still about 550 million miles (880 million kilometers) from Pluto.

On July 14, 2015, the spacecraft is scheduled to pass just 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface, where the spacecraft’s LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) will be able to spot features about the size of a football field.

New Horizons is the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt of rocky, icy objects beyond. It was launched on January 19, 2006.

By Leonard David

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