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Emily LakdawallaFebruary 4, 2015

New Horizons returns first images from mission's Pluto approach phase

Here they are, the first images of Pluto from the encounter phase of the New Horizons mission. We're on the home stretch!

New Horizons' Pluto approach mission phase begins

NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

New Horizons' Pluto approach mission phase begins
The two images in this animation were taken on January 25 and 27, 2015. They were the first acquired during the spacecraft's 2015 approach to the Pluto system. New Horizons was about 203 million kilometers from Pluto when the frames to make the first image were taken; about 2.5 million kilometers closer for the second set.

The caption released with this image also says "The image exposure time was only a tenth of a second, which is too short to detect Pluto's smaller moons. LORRI will also be taking images with longer exposure times (10 seconds) that should reveal both Nix and Hydra." Those images will have four times lower resolution than the one above, for reasons I explained in my blog post about the Pluto optical navigation campaign.

These images are simultaneously exciting and frustrating. Exciting, because: Pluto!! But frustrating, because they still don't show any details on the surface that I as a geologist can get excited about. And New Horizons won't be able to get us that level of detail until July. Thank goodness for Dawn at Ceres, which is slaking my thirst for images of new worlds. (I expect to see new, best-ever images of Ceres any day now.)

Nevertheless: Pluto!! And Charon!!!

Speaking of July, many people who are beginning to plan their summer vacations have asked me what to plan for regarding New Horizons' Pluto encounter. I have a very long and detailed post or two in the works about that, but in the meantime, here are a few bullet points to help you make plans. Times of day refer to the United States; I am being deliberately vague about most of the times here and will give more detail later.

Much more detail to come; stay tuned!

Read more: trans-neptunian objects, New Horizons, pretty pictures, Pluto, Charon, mission status, dwarf planets beyond Neptune, Pluto's small moons

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
Read more articles by Emily Lakdawalla

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