Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, as never seen before

New Horizons was about 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) from Pluto (R) and Charon (L) when it snapped this portrait late on July 8, 2015. (NASA-JUHAPL-SWRI)

By Andrew Freeman, Mashable, July 10, 2015 – As NASA’s New Horizons mission nears its historic rendezvous with the dwarf planet Pluto on Tuesday, we’re already being treated to images showing Pluto and its surroundings in unprecedented detail.

On Thursday evening eastern time, NASA released new images showing Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

The two celestial bodies orbit around a common center of gravity that lies between them. NASA compares them to “a pair of figure skaters clasping hands.”

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The images show Pluto’s surface has a high-contrast blend of bright and dark features, which might be contrary to the popular idea of this distant, frozen world. On Charon, the entire planetary object is covered in a uniform light gray, what a Home Depot paint store marketer might label as “Charon gray.”

The color differences may be because Pluto has a significant atmosphere, although it is not comprised of the same quantities of gases as one finds in Earth’s atmosphere. Charon has no atmosphere, and its surface is known to be made up of frozen water and ammonia compounds.

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