Washington, July 12 (ANI): NASA's Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has spotted the planet's Texas-sized, ice-covered moon Charon for the first time, using its highest-resolution telescopic camera.
This represents a major milestone on the spacecraft's 9.5-year journey to conduct the initial reconnaissance of the Pluto system and the Kuiper Belt and, in a sense, begins the mission's long-range study of the Pluto system.
The largest of Pluto's five known moons, Charon orbits about 12,000 miles (more than 19,000 kilometers) away from Pluto itself. As seen from New Horizons, that's only about 0.01 degree away.
"The image itself might not look very impressive to the untrained eye, but compared to the discovery images of Charon from Earth, these 'discovery' images from New Horizons look great!" New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md said.
"We're very excited to see Pluto and Charon as separate objects for the first time from New Horizons," he said.
The spacecraft was still 550 million miles from Pluto-farther than the distance from Earth to Jupiter-when its LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) snapped a total of six images: three on July 1 and three more on July 3.
LORRI's excellent sensitivity and spatial resolution revealed Charon at exactly the predicted offset from Pluto, 35 years after the announcement of Charon's discovery in 1978 by James Christy of the Naval Observatory. (ANI)