Nearly a year since the New Horizons spacecraft completed its historic fly-by of Pluto, NASA is releasing ever-more detailed pics of the planet’s surface as they tick back to Earth.
This latest set was taken with the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), which in this series was focused on the mountains of Voyager Terra and the Tombaugh Region, which became famously known last year as “Pluto’s Heart”.
Apart from being visually stunning, the images show scientists that Pluto’s surface is far more at the mercy of geological and atmospheric forces than ever thought.
There’s little doubt, at least visually, that Pluto should be rightfully be considered a planet, with cratered uplands:
‘Cellular’ ice plains:
‘Hummocky’ nitrogen ice plains:
And rugged highlands:
The numbers are as incredible as the images. These latest pics were taken just 23 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach, at a distance of 15,850km away. The resolution comes in at 80 metres per pixel and the area width snapped varies from 75-90km.
In the time that it’s taken NASA to receive and process these images, New Horizons has put Pluto some 383 million kilometres behind it.
Hitting 3600km/h, it’s now heading for the Kuiper Belt and an observation project NASA hopes will continue through to 2021.
Alan Stern, the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission, told Universe Today that it took at least half a dozen trips to Mars to get any dataset of the Red Planet which compared to what New Horizons returned in one flyby of Pluto.
The next set of images will land in October. You can this latest strip in full at NASA’s website here.
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