Just as expected, the images of Pluto keep getting better and better as the New Horizons spacecraft swoops ever nearer to the former planet. The latest depicts Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, locked in their celestial dance. The two bodies, separated by 12,200 miles of space, orbit around a common center of gravity, forming what planetary scientists would call a binary planet.
The spacecraft snapped the portrait on July 8 from a distance of 3.7 million miles. NASA notes that “Most of the bright features around Pluto’s edge are a result of image processing, but the bright sliver below the dark ‘whale,’ which is also visible in unprocessed images, is real.”
Here you can see the same image with color information that was obtained earlier.
The second image highlights the contrast between Pluto and its partner. While the former is reddish brown, rocky, and about 1500 miles in diameter, Charon is half that size, icier and gray.
“These two objects have been together for billions of years, in the same orbit, but they are totally different,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, in a statement.
The new images seem to depict brighter areas on Charon that could be impact craters. If so, the New Horizons spacecraft may be able to take a gander to see what the moon’s interior is made of.