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Spacecraft Built By JHU Getting Closer To Pluto

LAUREL, Md. (WJZ) -- Pluto is three billion miles from Maryland, but a spacecraft built by the Hopkins Applied Physics Lab is finally closing in on the dwarf planet.

Alex DeMetrick reports, there's only 120 million miles to go.

It's the largest moon named Charon, for the boatman to the underworld in classic mythology, Pluto was named for the god of that world. A good fit for a dwarf planet mysterious, dark, and deep in space.

"We're going to turn Pluto into a real world, with complexity and diversity," said Dr. Hal Weaver.

Dr. Hal Weaver is part of the Hopkins Applied Physics team, that have worked on and are now controlling the New Horizons spacecraft, which left earth nine years ago.

Traveling 31,000mph it is the fastest craft ever launched, but three million miles still makes for a long trip.

"About next May we will be starting to see Pluto with a higher resolution than is possible with the Hubble Space Telescope and then those images will just keep getting better and better until we get up to July 14th and the closest approach," said Dr. Ralph McNutt, JHU, Applied Physics Lab.

Still 120-million miles from Pluto, the first images are now coming in--not exactly earth shattering.

"This is exactly what we expected to see. The excitement for us is that Pluto is now twice as big as it was last summer," said Weaver.

When it reaches Pluto in July, the spacecraft's camera will zoom in for detail rich photos.

"The resolution is going to be like football field size. You'll be able to see mountains, ridges and valleys. This is a region that's never been explored before. This is a mission you can't say been there, done that," Weaver said.

At least, not yet.

New Horizons won't be able to orbit Pluto, but will fly by the dwarf planet, taking photos coming and going away.

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