NASA Spacecraft Records First Color Video of Pluto, Charon


An update on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft’s mission: Its successfully allowed NASA to capture the first color movies of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moon Charon.


NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft snapped images of Pluto and Charon on nine occasions during a period from May 29-June 3 using its “Ralph” Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera. The blue, red, and near-infrared images were used to create the first movies of Pluto and its largest moon, and in near-true color.

The New Horizons team used the same set of images to create two videos—one showing a Pluto-centric view, and the other showing a barycentric view. As its name suggests, Pluto is centered in the Pluto-centric version, and Charon’s movements are shown in relation to Pluto’s position. The movements of both dwarf planet and its satellite are shown in the barycentric version, as they move around their shared center of gravity.

“It’s exciting to see Pluto and Charon in motion and in color,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern. He continues, “Even at this low resolution, we can see that Pluto and Charon have different colors—Pluto is beige-orange, while Charon is grey. Exactly why they are so different is the subject of debate.”

barycentric pluto_centric


Pluto’s discovery in 1930 makes it a relatively recent addition to our solar system. It was demoted from full planet status in 2006 when similar-sized objects were detected in the Kuiper Belt between Neptune and Pluto (Although Pluto is officially recognized as a dwarf planet, its status is debated, and some scientists still regard Pluto as an official planet).

Aside from its size, Pluto is special compared to other objects in our solar system because of its large moon Charon. According to NASA, planets in our solar system typically have a planet:moon mass ratio of 10,000:1. Pluto and Charon’s is 8:1, which puts the center-of-mass between the two objects outside the surface of these objects.

This special feature earns Pluto-Charon the title of binary planet. And this is the only recognized binary planet in our solar system.


The New Horizons spacecraft launched on January 19, 2006, and just began its study of Pluto in the summer of 2015.

This is the first reconnaissance mission to explore the far away world of Pluto. So New Horizons is providing scientists with valuable information about the dwarf planet that will hopefully shed light on the geology, atmosphere, and interior makeup of Pluto.

The spacecraft’s extended mission will explore other worlds in the Kuiper Belt. New Horizons is scheduled to make its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015.


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