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, or LORRI, opened its protective cover and took its first image in space, showing 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, 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. This week's virtuoso first-light performance by LORRI is the best news any Pluto fan could hope for," said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.
"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 the Applied Physics Laboratory's Andy Cheng, LORRI principal investigator. "Our hopes were not only met, but exceeded."