A few days after the Inquisitr reported about NASA downloading images captured and sent across by the New Horizons spacecraft, the first of a series of detailed, high-resolution images of Pluto have been released. The new, close-up images of Pluto released by NASA reveal in breathtaking detail, a bewildering variety of surface features that have even taken scientists by surprise.
According to a NASA press release, the new images downlinked to Earth over the course of the last weekend have more than doubled the amount of Pluto’s surface seen at resolutions nearing 400 meters per pixel. This is a far cry from the blurred, hazy image of Pluto that stargazers were used to seeing in the past. We have embedded the images below.
NASA Releases Never-Seen-Before, Detailed Images Of Pluto’s Surface
This image of Pluto’s largest moon Charon, taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft 10 hours before its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers), is a recently downlinked, much higher quality version of a Charon image released on July 15.
Charon - One of Pluto's moons
In the center of this 300-mile (470-kilometer) wide image of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is a large region of jumbled, broken terrain on the northwestern edge of the vast, icy plain informally called Sputnik Planum, to the right. The smallest visible features are 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) in size. This image was taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers).
This 220-mile (350-kilometer) wide view of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet. The image includes dark, ancient heavily cratered terrain; bright, smooth geologically young terrain; assembled masses of mountains; and an enigmatic field of dark, aligned ridges that resemble dunes; its origin is under debate. The smallest visible features are 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) in size. This image was taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers).
Mosaic of high-resolution images of Pluto, sent back from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft from Sept. 5 to 7, 2015. The image is dominated by the informally-named icy plain Sputnik Planum, the smooth, bright region across the center. This image also features a tremendous variety of other landscapes surrounding Sputnik. The smallest visible features are 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) in size, and the mosaic covers a region roughly 1,000 miles (1600 kilometers) wide. The image was taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers).
This synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) above Pluto’s equatorial area, looking northeast over the dark, cratered, informally named Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth, expanse of icy plains informally called Sputnik Planum. The entire expanse of terrain seen in this image is 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. The images were taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers).
High res images of Pluto taken by the New Horizons spacecraft released
“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, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. “If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”
The images show several new features on Pluto’s surface that we never knew existed. The photos also show that Pluto is a diverse planet with several geographical features that includes dunes, nitrogen ice flows, a network of valleys and and even mountains. The images have also photographed a heavily-cratered area of Pluto. Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California comments on the new information.
“The surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars. The randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of hard water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen within the region informally named Sputnik Planum.”
William B. McKinnon, a GGI deputy lead from Washington University, St. Louis. adds his analysis.
“Seeing dunes on Pluto — if that is what they are — would be completely wild, because Pluto’s atmosphere today is so thin. Either Pluto had a thicker atmosphere in the past, or some process we haven’t figured out is at work. It’s a head-scratcher.”
While all the focus currently remains on Pluto, the New Horizons spacecraft is also expected to send out images of Pluto’s moons — Charon, Nix and Hydra — soon. Those images, like those of Pluto, are expected to be high-resolution images that should reveal great details.
[Images courtesy of NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Southwest Research Institute]