NASA's New Horizons is days away from the closest flyby point in its mission. New images reveal unseen details of Pluto's surface.
Planet Pluto comes into focus for the first time in human history. New Horizons' latest images reveal an intriguing new world with distinct surface features, including an immense dark band known as the “whale.”
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As the newest black and white image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) appeared on the morning of July 10, members of the science team reacted with joy and delight, seeing Pluto as never before. There will no doubt be many similar moments to come. New images and data are being gathered each day as New Horizons speeds closer to a July 14 flyby of Pluto, following a journey of three billion miles.
The image below shows how extremely excited NASA scientists are about the newest photos of Pluto.
Photo Credit: Michael Soluri
“We’re close enough now that we’re just starting to see Pluto’s geology,” said New Horizons program scientist Curt Niebur, NASA Headquarters in Washington, who’s keenly interested in the gray area just above the whale’s “tail” feature. “It’s a unique transition region with a lot of dynamic processes interacting, which makes it of particular scientific interest.”
New Horizons’ latest image of Pluto was taken on July 9, 2015 from 3.3 million miles (5.4 million kilometers) away, with a resolution of 17 miles (27 kilometers) per pixel. At this range, Pluto is beginning to reveal the first signs of discrete geologic features. This image views the side of Pluto that always faces its largest moon, Charon, and includes the so-called “tail” of the dark whale-shaped feature along its equator. (The immense, bright feature shaped like a heart had rotated from view when this image was captured.)
“Among the structures tentatively identified in this new image are what appear to be polygonal features; a complex band of terrain stretching east-northeast across the planet, approximately 1,000 miles long; and a complex region where bright terrains meet the dark terrains of the whale,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern. “After nine and a half years in flight, Pluto is well worth the wait.”
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It is getting exciting for NASA's Pluto flyby mission team. After a more than nine-year, three-billion-mile journey to Pluto, the New Horizons spacecraft will at the closest distance on July 14 at 7:49:57 am EDT. New Horizons will be approximately 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) above the surface at this time.
NASA has started daily briefings about the final approach to Pluto on NASA TV airing daily now at 11:30am EDT until July 14. On July 14 the Pluto Countdown Program will air from 7:30am to 8am. The images of the Pluto Flyby will be released on Wednesday July 15 at 3 to 4pm.
To get educated on Pluto watch NASA's Pluto in a minute video series below.
New Horizons is an interplanetary space probe that was launched as part of NASA's New Frontiers program. Built by the Applied Physics Laboratory and the Southwest Research Institute, with a team led by S. Alan Stern, the spacecraft was launched to study Pluto, its moons and the Kuiper Belt, performing flybys of the Pluto system and one or more Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs). The goal of the mission is to understand the formation of the Pluto system, the Kuiper Belt, and the transformation of the early Solar System.
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The spacecraft will study the atmospheres, surfaces, interiors and environments of Pluto and its moons. It will also study other objects in the Kuiper Belt. Find more on the historic space mission background on Wikipedia and NASA.