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Pluto’s icy ‘spider’

7 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Sprawling across Pluto’s icy landscape is an unusual geological feature that resembles a giant spider. This enhanced colour image, obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on 14 July 2015, consists of at least six extensional fractures (arrowed) converging to a point near the centre. Curiously, the spider’s “legs” expose red deposits below Pluto’s surface.

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View Pluto’s bladed terrain in 3-D

2 April 2016 Astronomy Now

One of the strangest landforms spotted by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it flew past Pluto was the “bladed” terrain formally named Tartarus Dorsa. The blades reach hundreds of feet high and are typically spaced a few miles apart. No geology degree is necessary to see why the terrain is so interesting — just grab your red and green 3-D spectacles.

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A pond of frozen nitrogen on Pluto

24 March 2016 Astronomy Now

This feature appears to be a frozen, former lake of liquid nitrogen, located in a mountain range just north of Pluto’s informally named Sputnik Planum. Captured by the New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) as the spacecraft flew past Pluto on 14 July 2015, the image shows the possible lake to be about 20 miles (30 kilometres) across.

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Methane snow on Pluto’s peaks

5 March 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA’s New Horizons team has discovered a chain of exotic snowcapped mountains stretching across the dark expanse on Pluto informally named Cthulhu Regio. One of the dwarf planet’s most identifiable features, Cthulhu (pronounced kuh-THU-lu) is a bit larger than the state of Alaska and stretches nearly halfway around Pluto’s equator.

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Pluto’s blue atmospheric ring in the infrared

2 February 2016 Astronomy Now

A new image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is the first look at Pluto’s atmosphere in infrared wavelengths, and the first image of the atmosphere made with data from the probe’s LEISA instrument. The blue ring around Pluto is caused by sunlight scattered from a haze of hydrocarbon particles in the form of a photochemical smog.

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New Horizons reveals Pluto’s widespread water ice

29 January 2016 Astronomy Now

Data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft point to more prevalent water ice on Pluto’s surface than previously thought. Water ice is Pluto’s crustal “bedrock,” the canvas on which its more volatile ices paint their seasonally changing patterns. The new false-colour image is derived from observations in infrared light by the probe’s Ralph/Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array.

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‘X’ marks a curious corner on Pluto’s icy plains

10 January 2016 Astronomy Now

“X” marks the spot of some intriguing surface activity in the latest picture of Pluto returned from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. This image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) extends New Horizons’ highest-resolution views of Pluto to the very centre of Sputnik Planum, the informally named icy plain that forms the left side of Pluto’s “heart” feature.

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Pluto’s close-up, now in colour

12 December 2015 Astronomy Now

This enhanced colour mosaic combines some of the sharpest views of Pluto that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft obtained during its 14 July flyby, revealing features smaller than half a city block on the dwarf planet’s surface. The wide variety of cratered, mountainous and glacial terrains seen here gives scientists and the public alike a breathtaking, super-high-resolution colour window into Pluto’s geology.

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Psychedelic Pluto

13 November 2015 Astronomy Now

NASA’s New Horizons scientists made this false colour image of Pluto using a technique called principal component analysis to highlight the many subtle colour differences between Pluto’s distinct regions. The image data were collected by the spacecraft’s Ralph/MVIC colour camera on 14 July at 11:11 UTC, from a range of 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometres).

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New Horizons returns full view of Pluto’s stunning crescent

30 October 2015 Astronomy Now

In September, the New Horizons team released a stunning but incomplete image of Pluto’s crescent. Thanks to updated processing work by the science team, New Horizons is releasing the entire, breathtaking image of Pluto. The team also released images showing extended mapping of the dwarf planet’s “heart” feature and young craters on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon.