February 4, 2015 8:50 pm
The unassuming image you’re looking at is Pluto and its moon Charon.
It was taken by New Horizons’ telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on Jan. 25.
NASA released the images today, which just happens to be the 109th birthday of Prof. Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered the dwarf planet in 1930. Some of his ashes are actually aboard the New Horizons spacecraft, which will arrive at Pluto on July 14th of this year.
The image itself isn’t much, certainly not compared to the images of Pluto taken by the Hubble, or those of Saturn taken by Cassini, or even those of Neptune taken by Voyager 2.
But according to NASA, the images will help the New Horizons mission navigators design course-correcting engine maneuvers to zero in on Pluto. The first of these maneuvers is scheduled for March 10.
That’s a month away.
New Horizons has traveled over 3 billion miles in a little over 9 years, since it was launched on January 19, 2006.
When New Horizons set off for Pluto, the Kuiper belt object was still considered a planet.
Now, regardless of what you think Pluto should be called, one thing is for certain: humanity is on the verge of exploring an icy, distant world that has captured our imaginations and our emotions for 85 years.
That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
Get the most out of StarTalk!
Ad-Free Audio Downloads
Ad-Free Video Episodes
Stickers & Mugs
Live Streams with Neil
Priority Cosmic Queries
Learn the Meaning of Life
...and much more