NASA has released new images of Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft taken before the outage on the weekend.
The New Horizons spacecraft suffered an anomaly on the weekend, but is now back on track for the July 14 Pluto flyby. NASA found the cause for New Horizons switching into safe mode. The underlying cause of the incident was a hard-to-detect timing flaw in the spacecraft command sequence that occurred during an operation to prepare for the close flyby. No similar operations are planned for the remainder of the Pluto encounter.
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NASA has now released new images of Pluto taken by New Horizons before the incident. These are the most recent high-resolution views of Pluto sent by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, including one showing the four mysterious dark spots on Pluto that have captured the imagination of the world.
The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) obtained the three images below between July 1 and 3 of 2015.
The left image shows, on the right side of the disk, a large bright area on the hemisphere of Pluto that will be seen in close-up by New Horizons on July 14. The three images together show the full extent of a continuous swath of dark terrain that wraps around much of Pluto’s equatorial region. The western end of the swath (right image) breaks up into a series of striking dark regularly-spaced spots, each hundreds of miles in size, which were first detected in New Horizons images taken in late June.
NASA says that intriguing details are beginning to emerge in the bright material north of the dark region, in particular a series of bright and dark patches that are conspicuous just below the center of the disk in the right image. In all three black-and-white views, the apparent jagged bottom edge of Pluto is the result of image processing. The inset shows Pluto’s orientation, illustrating its north pole, equator, and central meridian running from pole to pole.
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The color version of the July 3 LORRI image was created by adding color data from the Ralph instrument gathered earlier in the mission. New Horizons Closest Approach to Pluto is still planned for 7:49:57 a.m. EDT, July 14, 2015 according to the New Horizons Mission countdown.