The New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the first full-color picture of Pluto and its biggest moon, Charon, taken from a distance of 71 million miles away.
The image, released Tuesday by NASA, was taken by the craft's color imager on April 9. Starting next month, the pictures will become even sharper, and on July 14, New Horizons will sweep through Pluto's system at 30,000 mph, capturing the highest-resolution images ever. Over the course of 16 months, pictures and scientific data from the probe's rendezvous with Pluto will be sent back to Earth via New Horizons' 12-watt transmitter.
New Horizons has been on a "grand tour of the solar system," NASA's John Grunsfeld told NBC News, having also had close calls with Mercury and Neptune. Now, it is conducting the first up-close look at Pluto and Charon, and might even discover new moons and "rivers of neon" within the binary planet.
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