Spacecraft New Horizons sends a new image of Pluto

Recordings come due to the birthday of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh

The space probe New Horizons with Pluto and Charon © JHUAPL
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A Birthday Photo: NASA's New Horizons spacecraft approaches Pluto, sending new photos of the dwarf planet in time for Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh's birthday. Pluto and his moon Charon are still blurry spots on it, but in a few months the spacecraft will be the first to ever reach this outpost of the solar system.

On February 4, Pluto explorer Clyde Tombaugh would have turned 109. The US astronomer succeeded in 1930 in what many astronomers tried before him: He discovered a celestial body beyond Neptune - the Pluto. The increase in the solar system, which had in the meantime been reduced to a dwarf planet, was once even received by a man-made spaceship, was completely unimaginable to him.

Blurred spot instead of mere point of light

But today, about 85 years later, the NASA spacecraft New Horizons is already approaching the dwarf planet on the icy outer edge of our home system. Since starting in 2006, it has covered more than three billion kilometers and is now slowly approaching Pluto's reach. The latest images of the probe show the dwarf planet and its moon Charon not for the first time as a mere point of light, but as two flat bodies, albeit still very blurry.

Two blurry spots: Pluto and Charon, 200 million kilometers away © JHUAPL / SwRI

However, the spacecraft is still about 200 million kilometers from their destination. "The dwarf planet is now getting bigger and clearer every day as New Horizons reaches its destination, " says Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel. "Pluto is already more than a mere point."

Help for navigation

But even the current, blurry shots already fulfill an important function. Because they help to align the course of the probe exactly on the Pluto and to calculate the necessary Man ver. On the other hand, the photos show that the camera of the space probe, the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), still works perfectly despite extreme cold and years of travel. She is scheduled to make hundreds of shots until New Horions reaches Pluto on July 14, 2015. display

"My dad would love it, " comments Annette Tombaugh, daughter of the Pluto discoverer. "It would have meant a lot to him that we could finally see the planet he discovered and find out more about him and his moons."

(NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, 05.02.2015 - NPO)