It is almost five months since New Horizons’ epic encounter with Pluto, but the captured images and data will stream back to Earth across 3 billion miles of interplanetary space for a further 11 months. The first in a series of the best close-ups of the dwarf planet that humans may see for decades have been released, obtained when the spacecraft was just 15 minutes before closest approach during the 14 July flyby.
Pluto’s day is 6.4 Earth days long. The dwarf planet’s largest moon, Charon, also rotates once every 6.4 days as the two worlds are tidally locked to each another. This sequence of images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows us full rotations of the two bodies.
It seems that the more we see of Pluto, the more fascinating it gets. This latest image, from the heart of Pluto’s heart feature, shows the plains’ enigmatic cellular pattern as well as unusual clusters of small pits and troughs. Adding to the intrigue is that even at this resolution of 250 metres, no impact craters are seen, testifying to the region’s extreme geologic youth.
NASA has selected the potential next destination for the New Horizons mission to visit after its historic 14 July flyby of the Pluto system. The target is a 30-mile-wide Kuiper Belt object (KBO) known as 2014 MU69 that orbits nearly a billion miles beyond Pluto. New Horizons expects to reach the object, nicknamed “PT1” (Potential Target 1), on 1 January 2019.
The science team of NASA’s New Horizons mission has produced an updated global map of dwarf planet Pluto that includes all resolved images of the surface acquired 7-14 July 2015, up to 400 metres/pixel resolution. Many additional images are expected in autumn 2015 and these will be used to complete the global map.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft doesn’t pass Pluto until July 14th — zipping by about 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometres) above the surface of the dwarf planet after a journey of almost 3 billion miles — but the mission team is making tantalising new discoveries as the piano-sized probe bears down on the Pluto system.
What a difference 20 million miles makes! Images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons are growing in scale as the spacecraft approaches its mysterious target. The new images, taken May 8th-12th using a powerful telescopic camera and downlinked last week, reveal more detail about Pluto’s complex and high contrast surface.