New Horizons time-lapse shows a full day on Pluto and Charon

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The time-lapse comprises images taken over 6.4 Earth days (Image: NASA/APL/Southwest Research Institute)

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Following the release of the first image of Pluto and its moon Charon from New Horizons, NASA has provided an even closer look at the distant objects. The time-lapse aggregates numerous pictures transmitted back home from the deep space probe, showing a full day cycle.

The images, which were taken using the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on the New Horizons spacecraft, took almost a week to collect and show a "full day" on Pluto and Charon – around 6.4 Earth days. The snaps were taken with an exposure time of one-tenth of a second, too short to capture Pluto’s other, more distant moons.

When the first image was taken, the probe was 126 million miles (203 million km) from Pluto, and a full 3 billion miles (4.8 billion km) from Earth. By the time the final frame was snapped, it had moved 5 million miles (8 million km) closer to the dwarf planet and its moon.

Charon is roughly the size of Texas and about an eighth the size of Pluto. It orbits approximately 11,200 miles (18,000 km) above the dwarf planet’s surface, and its gravity creates a wobble in the larger object’s rotation that is visible in the time-lapse.

New Horizons principle investigator Alan Stern commented on the significance of the new images, stating, "… they have the additional benefit of allowing the mission scientists to study the variations in brightness of Pluto and Charon as they rotate, providing a preview of what to expect during the close encounter in July."

While the images provide our best ever view of Pluto, New Horizons is still too far out from the dwarf planet to resolve its surface features. The time-lapse footage, the frames of which are magnified four times to make it easier to see the dwarf planet and moon, can be seen via the source link below.

Source: NASA

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