Photos of Charon and Pluto take about four to five hours to reach earth. Many people eagerly await the images. Past missions have yielded remarkable images of Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. New Horizons is capturing photos, and testing dust, among other things, looking at what the solar system looked like four and half billion years ago.
The team behind New Horizons assembled a particular set of instruments for the spacecraft's long journey. From NASA's website, here are the seven instruments built into New Horizons:
Visible and infrared imager/spectrometer; provides color, composition and thermal maps.
Ultraviolet imaging spectrometer; analyzes composition and structure of Pluto's atmosphere and looks for atmospheres around Charon and Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs).
(Radio Science EXperiment) Measures atmospheric composition and temperature; passive radiometer.
(Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) telescopic camera; obtains encounter data at long distances, maps Pluto's farside and provides high resolution geologic data.
(Solar Wind Around Pluto) Solar wind and plasma spectrometer; measures atmospheric "escape rate" and observes Pluto's interaction with solar wind.
(Pluto Energetic Particle Spectrometer Science Investigation) Energetic particle spectrometer; measures the composition and density of plasma (ions) escaping from Pluto's atmosphere.
(Student Dust Counter) Built and operated by students; measures the space dust peppering New Horizons during its voyage across the solar system."
Other missions such as Voyager from the late 70's have made it past Pluto, the furtherest "planet" in our solar system. So many naysayers - who think we should send Tony Shalhoub to Pluto in character as "Monk" - question the purpose of these missions. Who knows, someday New Horizon, or another spacecraft equipped with a scientific gadgets that have brought crazy sci-fi ideas to life, may discover resources to help the quality of life on earth...or, as many scientists envisage: these missions will build the stepping stones toward off-planet colonies which would connect us closer and closer to the very distant places that are currently out of reach. One artifact attached to the craft was the Florida state quarter, which is part of the tradition of reaching out to the unknown.
Below: The Golden Record sent by a past NASA mission.