As the New Horizons spacecraft speeds toward Pluto, it’s sending back increasingly cool images of the mysterious former planet. In the latest batch, we can see Pluto and its moon, Charon, dancing around each other in the mission’s first near-true color movies.
The animation is assembled from images that the spacecraft snapped between May 29 and June 3. From this vantage, Pluto still looks like something out of an 8-bit video game, but it shows we’re getting tantalizingly close to the dwarf planet. New Horizons’ July 14 flyby will give us our first good look at the planet’s surface, atmosphere, and moons. (It might also help to reinstate Pluto as a real planet.)
“Even at this low resolution, we can see that Pluto and Charon have different colors,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern in a press release. “Pluto is beige-orange, while Charon is grey. Exactly why they are so different is the subject of debate.”
In the movie, you can see that Pluto’s moon Charon doesn’t orbit nicely like Earth’s moon. Instead, Charon is so large and so big that it pulls on Pluto, and the two end up spinning around each other as a double planet. The “X” in the movie marks the center of gravity that the two bodies dance around. It’s also the spot that Pluto’s other moons orbit, which ends up making Pluto a pretty chaotic system.