New Horizons mission eyes Pluto

The New Horizons probe has returned new pictures of the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

They are the first images since the Nasa mission formally began its countdown to a flyby of the distant world in July.Pluto and its satellite appear as white blobs in the photos, which were taken from a separation of 200 million km.But come May, New Horizons will return views of the dwarf – 5bn km from Earth – that better anything from the Hubble.There is not much science that can be done with these early pictures.Their primary use is to make sure the probe is lined up properly for its historic rendezvous in just over five months.Controllers will be conducting a number of these optical navigation surveys.They need to be sure as well that New Horizons is not heading for any debris that may be moving around the Pluto system when it barrels through at 13km/s.The first of any adjustments in the spacecraft’s trajectory will begin in March.