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Pluto in Color: Movie Shows Dwarf Planet’s Orbital Dance With Moon Charon

Pluto and its moon Charon have been captured in full color and, well, slightly jerky motion by NASA's New Horizons probe. At a distance of around 30 million miles (50 million kilometers), the duo are little more than a handful of pixels wide, but already the color and shape of each can be discerned, as well as the complex orbital dance they perform every week or so.

Because Charon is nearly an eighth of Pluto's mass, the two worlds are locked in an orbit around a shared center of gravity in space. They both rotate once every 6.4 Earth days. New Horizons is designed to study the particulars of that pattern and address many other questions about mysterious Pluto and its surroundings.

Related: New Horizons Tracks All Five of Pluto's Known Moons

The images making up this short video were taken on multiple days between May 29 and June 3. One set shows a "Plutocentric" view, while the other set centers the view around the center of gravity rather than on Pluto itself. Pluto's reddish-brown color is thought to be come from organic molecules on the dwarf planet's surface.

Scientists are already seeing signs of surface variations on Pluto, and this is just the beginning: New Horizons will pass within 8,000 miles of Pluto on July 14, snapping pictures with an unprecedented amount of detail.

Related: New Horizons Brings Pluto Into Sharper Focus

"Color observations are going to get much, much better, eventually resolving the surfaces of Charon and Pluto at scales of just kilometers," project scientist Cathy Olkin of the Southwest Research Institute said in a NASA news release. "This will help us unravel the nature of their surfaces and the way volatiles transport around their surfaces. I can't wait; it's just a few weeks away!"