In this highest-resolution image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, great blocks of Pluto’s water-ice crust appear jammed together in the informally named al-Idrisi mountains. Some mountain sides appear coated in dark material, while other sides are bright. Several sheer faces appear to show crustal layering, perhaps related to the layers seen in some of Pluto’s crater walls. Other materials appear crushed between the mountains, as if these great blocks of water ice, some standing as much as 1.5 miles high, were jostled back and forth. The mountains end abruptly at the shoreline of the informally named Sputnik Planum, where the soft, nitrogen-rich ices of the plain form a nearly level surface, broken only by the fine trace work of striking, cellular boundaries and the textured surface of the plain’s ices (which is possibly related to sunlight-driven ice sublimation). This view is about 50 miles wide. The top of the image is to Pluto’s northwest. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Some news, although the sharing comes a bit late, on a subject that enthralls me.
Last week, NASA released a set of photos of Pluto. They could be some of the clearest close-ups of Pluto’s surface humans see for decades, NASA says. The images, taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, show craters, mountains and glacial terrain along a strip 50 miles wide.
The New Horizons spacecraft took them in July during its closest flyby of Pluto and they were among the most recent batch sent to back to us. The spacecraft sped past Pluto in July but it will take about one year to transfer all the photos and data.
NASA also released a video compiled from the sharpest views of Pluto, showing a 50-mile-wide strip on its icy surface.
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, sums up what I’ve been awed by, “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. The science we can do with these images is simply unbelievable.”
Researchers expect more images to come in over the next week, showing even more terrain at the highest resolution possible. Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes. Can’t wait.
I’ll leave you with psychedelic Pluto, brought to us by the New Horizons team. Ain’t it cool?
New Horizons scientists made this false color image of Pluto using a technique called principal component analysis to highlight the many subtle color differences between Pluto’s distinct regions. The image data were collected by the spacecraft’s Ralph/MVIC color camera on July 14 at 11:11 AM UTC, from a range of 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers). This image was presented by Will Grundy of the New Horizons’ surface composition team on Nov. 9 at the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in National Harbor, Maryland. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI