NASA Unveils Close-Ups Of Pluto, Revealing Towering Ice Mountains, Plains Of Nitrogen [Video]

NASA releases Pluto close-ups, the best images we'll get in a generation

Enjoy the close-ups of Pluto NASA just released; they’re likely the only images of the distant planet us earthlings will get for a generation, but more are coming.

NASA released the close-ups on Friday. They were taken by the New Horizons probe, which famously flew by the icy planet in July. Since then, we’ve learned more about the planet than we ever have before, and so far, scientists have been stumped and amazed by its bizarre and beautiful terrain.

These snapshots just add to the mystery and wonder.

“These new images give us a breathtaking, super-high resolution window into Pluto’s geology,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for the mission, according to NBC News. “Nothing of this quality was available for Venus or Mars until decades after their first flybys; yet at Pluto we’re there already — down among the craters, mountains and ice fields — less than five months after flyby!”

Taken from 10,000 miles away, the close-ups are six times sharper than photos used in the past to shape a map of the planet, CBS News added. They capture a 50-mile wide strip of terrain and are so detailed that they reveal areas as small as 250 feet wide, about the size of a city block.

The high-resolution close-ups reveal a icy and harsh landscape across Sputnik Planum, the al-Idrisi peaks, to the plains of the heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio.

“These high-res close-ups will help NASA, geologists, planetologists, and the entire scientific world understand how Pluto was formed,” William McKinnon, deputy lead of the Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team said.

Among the remarkable discoveries are the icy plains of Sputnik Planum where it intersects with an even icier mountain range. At Sputnik Planum’s “shoreline,” the images reveal “great blocks of Pluto’s water-ice crust appear jammed together in the informally named al-Idrisi mountains,” NASA explained. They appear to actually be massive blocks of ice, which “have been jostled and tumbled and somehow transported to their present locations.”

John Spencer, team member, called the range stunning.

“The new details revealed here, particularly the crumpled ridges in the rubbly material surrounding several of the mountains, reinforce our earlier impression that the mountains are huge blocks that have been jostled and tumbled and somehow transported to their present locations.”

Over at Slate, a very excited science blogger was also examining the northwest edge of the area, which he said reminded him of the coast of Greenland or Alaska. The author noted that it’s is so cold there its ice is hard as rock, and pointed out a fascinating fact: the plain may have filled with nitrogen, which flows like glaciers on Earth.

Another image captures the planet’s craters. These pictures reveal dark layers and spots where it appears as though ices, brought it from somewhere else, filled them up. Also starkly beautiful is the mountainous region called “the Badlands,” where evidence of faulting and erosion can be seen.

For John Grunsfeld, who directs NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, the close-ups of the distant world show how powerful the robot explorers we’ve built can be.

“New Horizons thrilled us during the July flyby with the first images of Pluto, and as the spacecraft transmits the treasure trove of (pictures) in its onboard memory back to us, we continue to be amazed by what we see.”

The probe is on its way to the Kuiper Belt and that distance makes it tough to beam back all of the data it recorded during its flight, flyby, and departure; it’s estimated this process will take 16 months. But NASA promises more high-resolution photos in the next few days.

[Image via YouTube]