New Images From Pluto Reveal Surface Details
New photos taken by a spacecraft zooming toward Pluto explain a variety of new data on the dwarf planet's complex and varied surface.
These photos were taken between May and May 12, when the spacecraft was about 50 million miles, that's 80 million kilometers, away from the dwarf planet using its long-range camera. The first ever flyby of Pluto will be in July 14, by NASA's New Horizons probe.
"These new images show us that Pluto's differing faces are each distinct, likely hinting at what may be very complex surface geology or variations in surface composition from place to place," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in a statement.
Stern also said that "These images also continue to support the hypothesis that Pluto has a polar cap whose extent varies with longitude." "We'll be able to make a definitive determination of the polar bright region's iciness when we get compositional spectroscopy of that region in July."
The first pictures of Pluto taken by New Horizons Probe sometime in April were from a distance of about 70 million miles. In these images, surface variations were only depicted as areas of different brightness. With the newer images, at almost twice the resolution of the first photos, scientists can pick out more details of the Plutonian surface.
Following a January 2006 launch, New Horizons is currently about 2.95 billion miles from Earth. The New Horizons spacecraft is in good shape and all systems are operating as usual.