The newly released image shows the twilight zone of Pluto and highlights certain features of the dwarf planet.
NASA New Horizons spacecraft has beamed back yet another stunning image of Pluto. The image was taken only a few minutes later when the probe made it closest approach to the dwarf planet July last year. At the time, the Sun was on the other side of the Pluto as viewed by the spacecraft, creating a stunning backlit view and providing a rare glimpse at the dark side of the dwarf planet.
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In the latest image, sun behind the Pluto is lighting up certain features of the dwarf planet such as rugged mountainous range, nitrogen ice plains and probably a wisp of cloud mysteriously moving across the dwarf planet’s exotic skies.
The wisp of cloud is visible at the top right of the Pluto’s crescent and stretches across tens of miles. Scientists suspect that it may be “a discreet, low-lying cloud in Pluto’s atmosphere” and if that is the case, it would be the only one yet identified in any New Horizons’ image. The putative cloud is filtered through by the sunlight and shines in Pluto’s complex atmospheric haze layers. The existence of a cloud in Pluto’ atmosphere is not a total surprise. Atmospheric models suggest that methane clouds can occasionally form in multi-layered haze of the planet.
At the bottom right more details of Pluto’s weird terrain can be seen. The terrain, measuring 3 miles across, appears uneven and rugged due to the presence of broad valleys and sharp peaks. The latest close up image provides a much better view of the terrain than other high resolution images taken on other occasions.
“These silhouetted terrains therefore act as a useful “anchor point,” giving New Horizons scientists a rare, detailed glimpse at the lay of the land in this mysterious part of Pluto seen at high resolution only in twilight.” Authors wrote in NASA’s blog.
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The image was obtained at a high phase angle by New Horizons’ Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) at the distance of 13,400 miles, around 19 minutes after the historic close flyby.