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First colour movie of Pluto and Charon gives taste of things to come

Pluto and Charon in color

It’s still very low resolution but the first colour movies from NASA’s New Horizons mission give new insights into the complex orbits of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

“It’s exciting to see Pluto and Charon in motion and in color,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. “Even at this low resolution, we can see that Pluto and Charon have different colours — Pluto is beige-orange, while Charon is grey. Exactly why they are so different is the subject of debate.”

The movies are compiled from images taken from about 50 million kilometres away. New Horizons will make its closest approach to Pluto on 14 July at about 12,500 kilometres above the surface.

New Horizons is the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, a relic of solar system formation beyond Neptune.

The movie above is from a barycentric perspective. Pluto and Charon are shown in motion around the binary’s barycenter – the shared center of gravity between the two bodies as they do a planetary jig. Because Pluto is much more massive than Charon, the barycenter (marked by a small “x” in the movie) is much closer to Pluto than to Charon.

See the Cosmos report on the New Horizons mission, Knocking on Pluto’s door.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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