New Horizons Released Never-Seen-Before Surface Images of Pluto

By Jenn Loro - 01 Jun '16 08:42AM

Pluto lies in the fringes of the solar system but NASA has recently revealed breathtaking images of the ex-ninth planet taken by the New Horizons space probe during its flyby mission on July 14, 2015. The photos will probably remain as the only captured snapshots of Pluto for years to come since NASA has not yet confirmed whether to send another Pluto flyby or another mission beyond it.

"This new image product is just magnetic," said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern as quoted by Science Daily. "It makes me want to go back on another mission to Pluto and get high-resolution images like these across the entire surface."

The pictures were recorded on a strip offering a glimpse into Pluto's fascinating surface. The strip of images is reportedly 55 miles wide captured in a long sweep across Pluto's hemisphere facing the spacecraft. With 260ft per pixel resolution, the most-detailed images to date in mosaic form reveal fine details of Pluto's diverse terrains and the processes that led to their formation. The pictures were also arranged in short silent movie form created by the New Horizons team.

"Starting with hummocky, cratered uplands at top, the view crosses over parallel ridges of the 'washboard' terrain; chaotic and angular mountain ranges; the craterless, cellular plains; coarsely 'pitted' areas of sublimating nitrogen ice; zones of thin nitrogen ice draped over the topography below; and rugged, dark, mountainous highlands scarred by deep pits," Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) description of Pluto reads as quoted by The Monitor Daily.

The photos shown in the mosaic strip were taken using New Horizon's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) from an estimated distance of 9,850 miles (15,850 kilometers) from the so-called 'dwarf planet' just 23 minutes before the spaceprobe's closest rendezvous with Pluto.

The New Horizons mission was started on January 19, 2006 with the launching of the spacecraft that managed to reach the closest distance to Pluto nine years later. The goal of the Pluto flyby was observe the ex-ninth planet and its surrounding moons. The mission also expanded to study the Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) that may help scientists explain how the solar system was formed.

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