NASA Releases Never-Seen-Before, Detailed Images Of Pluto’s Surface

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.

“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]