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In preparing for its July 14 fly-by of Pluto, New Horizons will take its first images of the planet on January 25.
Snapped by New Horizons’ telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager, known as LORRI, those pictures will give mission scientists a continually improving look at the dynamics of those moons. And they’ll play a critical role in navigating the spacecraft as it covers the remaining 135 million miles (220 million kilometers) to Pluto. “We’ve completed the longest journey any craft has flown from Earth to reach its primary target, and we are ready to begin exploring!” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.
Over the next few months, LORRI will take hundreds of pictures of Pluto against star fields to refine the team’s estimates of New Horizons’ distance to Pluto. Though the Pluto system will resemble little more than bright dots in the camera’s view until May, mission navigators will use those data to design course-correction maneuvers that aim the spacecraft toward its flyby target point this summer. The first such maneuver could occur as early as March.