NASA’s New Horizons, which is scheduled to have its closest encounter with Pluto in July, has beamed back fresh images of the distant dwarf planet. The images, which show Pluto and its largest moon Charon, were released by NASA on Wednesday to coincide with the 109th birth anniversary of Clyde Tombaugh, an American astronomer who discovered the icy world in 1930.
“My dad would be thrilled with New Horizons,” Annette Tombaugh, Clyde’s daughter, reportedly said. “To actually see the planet that he had discovered, and find out more about it -- to get to see the moons of Pluto -- he would have been astounded.”
The images were snapped by the New Horizons space probe between Jan. 25 and Jan. 27, according to a statement released by NASA. The photos, captured by the probe’s high-resolution Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), show both Pluto and Charon as bright, pixellated blobs in a dark background, and are the first in a series of pictures that LORRI is scheduled to capture in coming months as New Horizons closes in on the dwarf planet.
Currently, the probe, which has covered a distance of over 3 billion miles since its launch in 2006, is at a distance of nearly 120 million miles from Pluto. In May, New Horizons is expected to start returning the highest-resolution photos of Pluto ever taken.
“These images of Pluto, clearly brighter and closer than those New Horizons took last July from twice as far away, represent our first steps at turning the pinpoint of light Clyde saw in the telescopes at Lowell Observatory 85 years ago, into a planet before the eyes of the world this summer,” Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said, in the statement.