NASA's Pluto-bound spacecraft sees its target
Posted on Aug 13 2014 | IANS
Washington, Aug 13 : NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has glimpsed Pluto and its moon Charon from a distance ranging from about 422-429 million km, media reports said.
The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI, telescope attached with the probe took the pictures of Charon and ground controllers commanded the spacecraft to take the images as part of the mission's first optical navigation campaign.
Recorded over a period of five days in July, the images show Charon completing one orbit of Pluto. Charon orbits approximately 11,200 miles from Pluto.
"The image sequence showing Charon revolving around Pluto set a record for close range imaging of Pluto - they were taken from 10 times closer to the planet than the Earth is," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, US.
"But we will smash that record again and again, starting in January, as approach operations begin. We are really excited to see our target and its biggest satellite in motion from our own perch, less than a year from the historic encounter ahead!," Alan added.
Pluto's four smaller satellites (Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos) are too faint to be seen in these distant images, but will begin to appear in images taken next year as the spacecraft speeds closer to its target.
The New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006, is on approach for a dramatic flight past the icy dwarf planet of Pluto and its moons in July 2015.
The New Horizons mission operations team at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, will put the spacecraft into hibernation Aug 29 - just four days after New Horizons crosses the orbit of Neptune Aug 25.