In mid-July, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past the dwarf planet Pluto and captured high detail photographs of the surface. Although New Horizons sent back one good photograph already near the time of the flyby, we’ve known that there were still other images New Horizons captured that we wouldn’t receive until September.
Well, the time is finally here, and as you might expect, NASA has started releasing some of them.
The reason for the long wait is because New Horizons is incredibly far away from the Earth and it takes a while for the radio signals to get here. On the other hand, the wait is over; it’s September, and now NASA has received its first wave of high-detail photographs, which it has shared on Thursday on its News site.
The photographs returned by New Horizons show some of the complex terrain details on Pluto, including the planet’s icy plains, craters, and more. The photographs were taken approximately 1100 miles above the dwarf planet’s surface, getting the New Horizons spacecraft close enough to picture even the slightest details.
The high amounts of terrain detail in Pluto’s surface is surprising scientists, who once thought that it would be much less detailed than it really is.
“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. “If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”
Another scientist goes as far as to say that the dwarf planet has a surface just as complex as Mars.
“The surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “The randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of hard water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen within the region informally named Sputnik Planum.”
These pictures are a big deal. We’ve never once had the ability to get such clear shots of Pluto being that it’s so far away, and now we have the means to study the dwarf planet’s surface by way of these high-quality photographs.
More photos below show off additional views of Pluto’s surface, as well as Pluto’s largest moon, Charon:
New Horizons may be headed out into interstellar space, but it’s not done yet. NASA now wants to send New Horizons to a KBO (Kuiper Belt Object) known as 2014 MU69 where it hopes to learn even more about what’s out there.
You also might want to check out some of the high detail photographs of Ceres that NASA just recently released compliments of the Dawn spacecraft.