NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has sent back its first colour image of the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon Charon, after more than nine years of travelling through the solar system.
The new photo, taken on April 9 from a distance of about 115 million kilometres, is already providing insights about Pluto and Charon, as well as suggestions of the science to come when New Horizons flies by the Pluto system on July 14, NASA said.
The image shows "tantalising glimpses of this system," Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said.
"You can immediately see a number of differences between Pluto and Charon," Green added.
Charon is dimmer than Pluto. The contrast may be due to a difference in composition of the two bodies, or it could even be caused by a previously unseen atmosphere on Charon, Green said.
A handout photo from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the rich galaxy cluster Abell 3827. (AFP PHOTO)
The uncertainty should clear up this summer, when New Horizons gets history's first good look at the two frigid, faraway objects, Space.com' reported.
Pluto is getting its first close-up decades after planets such as Venus, Mars and Neptune received theirs. The delay means New Horizons is able to bring some pretty advanced scientific gear to the job.
New Horizons, which launched in January 2006, will be one of five spacecraft to visit the outer edges of the solar system, following in the footsteps of NASA's Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 probes.