"We are really excited to see our target and its biggest satellite in motion from our own perch," he added in a New Horizons mission update on Thursday, "less than a year from the historic encounter ahead!"
ANALYSIS: Pluto and Moon Charon May Share Same Atmosphere
We've seen fuzzy photographs of both Pluto and Charon before, but this animation shows something more.
Over the course of 5 days, LORRI snapped 12 images of the Pluto-Charon system, tracking nearly one full (6.5 day) Charon orbit. New Horizons was between 267 million to 262 million miles from Pluto at the time. As Charon orbits, however, there's a very clear wobble in Pluto's position - Charon's mass (nearly 12 percent that of Pluto's) has a powerful gravitational influence on Pluto, yanking it "off center." Therefore, both masses orbit an imaginary point above Pluto's surface. This point is called the "barycenter" of the Pluto-Charon system.
This is unique for any planetary body in the solar system - only binary asteroids have been found to have barycenters outside of either mass' body. This fact alone has led calls for Charon to be recognized as a planetary body in its own right, or that the Pluto-Charon system should be redefined as a "binary planet" - much like the definition for binary stars that are common throughout the galaxy.