New Horizons Mission Beams Back Stunning New Pluto Images, NASA Uses Them To Create Aerial Tour Video

NASA has released another batch of incredible images from the New Horizons expedition to Pluto, the BBC reports.

The pictures are truly spectacular, offering unparalleled and intimate views of a celestial body located in the far outer reaches of our solar system.

Alan Stern, the New Horizon’s principal investigator, was elated by the new images and described them as “a home run.”

These latest photographs only represent 5 percent of the total data, meaning the world can look forward to a wealth of spell-binding pictures to come.

The data is downloading at a rate of approximately one to four kilobits per second, and it is anticipated the entire New Horizons data set will take one year to beam back to Earth.

The New Horizons images capture icy mountain ranges named Norgay Montes and Hillary Montes, which rise 3,500 meters above Pluto’s surface.

The photographs offer stunning panoramic views, 800 miles across, of Pluto’s landscape and atmosphere illuminated by some convenient backlighting from the sun.

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“This really makes you feel you are there, surveying the landscape for yourself. But this is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains,” says New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The terrain is crystal clear, characterized by glaciers and mountains similar to those found on earth in the Antarctic and Greenland.

The New Horizons photographs offer an unprecedented and revelatory insight into Pluto’s topography and multi-layered atmosphere — and provides evidence for the existence of water cycles on Pluto equivalent to those on Earth, but differentiated by exotic types of ice.

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Stern admitted, “Pluto is surprisingly Earth-like in this regard, and no one predicted it.”

“Driven by dim sunlight, this would be directly comparable to the hydrological cycle that feeds ice caps on Earth, where water is evaporated from the oceans, falls as snow, and returns to the seas through glacial flow,” Alan Howard, team member University of Virginia in Charlottesville, commented.

“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern

NASA also published a video on Friday, an animation that uses photos collected by the New Horizons mission to visualize what it would look like to fly over the surface of Pluto, reports Mashable.

The video was created by Stuart Robbins, a research scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, and can be found here with commentary from the creator on NASA’s blog.

[Images and video via NASA]

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