After a more than nine-year, three-billion-mile journey to Pluto, it’s show time for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, as the flyby sequence of science observations is officially underway.
In the early morning hours of 8 July, mission scientists received this new view of Pluto—the most detailed yet returned by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard New Horizons. The image was taken on 7 July, when the spacecraft was just under 5 million miles (8 million kilometres) from Pluto, and is the first to be received since the 4 July anomaly that sent the spacecraft into safe mode.
This view is centred roughly on the area that will be seen close-up during New Horizons’ 14 July closest approach. This side of Pluto is dominated by three broad regions of varying brightness. Most prominent are an elongated dark feature at the equator, informally known as “the whale,” and a large heart-shaped bright area measuring some 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometres) across on the right. Above those features is a polar region that is intermediate in brightness.
“The next time we see this part of Pluto at closest approach, a portion of this region will be imaged at about 500 times better resolution than we see today,” said Jeff Moore, Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team Leader of NASA’s Ames Research Center. “It will be incredible!”