Pluto-bound Probe Snaps First Photo
On Aug. 29, 2006, the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) opened its launch cover door and took its first image in space, of Messier 7, a star cluster in our Milky Way galaxy. The image shows the center of Messier 7, which was catalogued by Charles Messier in 1764, and described by Ptolemy around 130 A.D. Stars to at least 12th magnitude are clearly visible, meaning LORRI's sensitivity and noise levels in space are consistent with its pre-launch calibrations on the ground. Directionally, north is at the top of the images, east is to the left.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

NASA's Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has snapped its first high-resolution photo, an image of distant stars that shows the probe's high-resolution camera works.

This week the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) opened its protective cover and took its first image in space, of Messier 7, a star cluster in our Milky Way galaxy.

The craft's six other primary science instruments have already checked out.

New Horizons launched in January and is due to arrive at Pluto in 2015.

Developed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), which also built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, LORRI is the long focal length, reflecting telescope on New Horizons, designed to acquire the highest-resolution images of Pluto and its moons during a flyby.

"LORRI is our 'eagle eyes' on New Horizons, providing the most detailed images we have," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colo. "This week's virtuoso first-light performance by LORRI is the best news any Pluto fan could hope for."

"Our hope was that LORRI's first image would prove not only that the cover had opened completely, but that LORRI was capable of providing the required high-resolution imaging of Pluto and Charon," says Andy Cheng, LORRI principal investigator, from APL. "Our hopes were not only met, but exceeded."