See New, Close-Up Images of Pluto Taken by NASA Probe New Horizons

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TIME

NASA’s space probe New Horizons has sent back its first images of Pluto and its moon Charon during the probe’s final approach towards the dwarf planet, which the agency released Wednesday.

The publishing of the images coincides with the birth anniversary of Clyde Tombaugh, Pluto’s discoverer, who died in 1997.

“This is our birthday tribute to Professor Tombaugh and the Tombaugh family, in honor of his discovery and life achievements,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern.

The spacecraft, which has traveled 3 billion miles across the solar system for over nine years, is currently scheduled to fly past Pluto and its moons on July 14. (It took the above grainy but exciting images from about 126 million miles away.)

“Pluto is finally becoming more than a pinpoint of light,” said the mission’s project scientist Hal Weaver.

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