NASA Takes First Color Photograph Of Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has snapped the first ever color photograph of Pluto. The image, shown below, may be a bit blurry, but you can expect more detailed images to emerge as the spacecraft gets closer to the lonely planet on the edge of the Solar System. New Horizons also caught Charon, a moon, in the photograph of Pluto.

NASA Takes First Color Photograph Of Pluto - Clapway

New Horizons is expected to get closer to Pluto and grab detailed images that should be able to detect differences in the planet’s surface of a few miles apart. Right now, it’s still some 70 million miles away. The spacecraft was launched on January 19, 2006 with an Earth and solar escape trajectory going 36,000 miles an hour. It’s the fastest object to ever leave our atmosphere. Along the way to Pluto, New Horizons also got a gravity assist from Jupiter. In effect, a spacecraft will slingshot around a planet to increase its speed.

The photograph of Pluto is not the only thing we can expect from this NASA mission. The spacecraft has a range of instruments, boasting an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer, a long focal length imager, and an onboard telescope called RALPH, which was used to take the photo. The major goals of New Horizons is to make a detailed map of the surface composition of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. It was also get an idea of the atmosphere and geology of the cold planet. After its flyby, the spacecraft will head on into the Kuiper Belt, a large ring of smaller objects surrounding the Solar System. By looking at these objects, we can have greater insight into how the Solar System began.

New Horizons will perform a flyby in July and should expect a much more detailed photograph of Pluto. This will be the critical period that many at NASA have been waiting nine years for. The spacecraft has already been awoken from hibernation mode, and many of the above mentioned systems will be tested prior to the flyby. Post-flyby will be concerned with the Kuiper Belt, but this will be dependent on the direction the probe take from Pluto’s own gravity assist. Upon reaching the extremity of the Solar System, it will finish up with investigations of the heliosphere.

On the topic of the wondrous happenings and images of the sky’s wonders, check out this sky-oriented timelapse: