Scientists planning the the next phase of NASA’s New Horizons mission, a robotic craft that completed the first exploration of Pluto in 2015, are going into the flyby of a frozen, faraway city-sized clump of rock on New Year’s Day 2019 armed with little knowledge of the target lurking around 4 billion miles from Earth.
This ethereal scene captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft tells yet another story of Pluto’s diversity of geological and compositional features — this time in an enhanced colour image of the north polar area. A canyon about 45 miles wide runs close to the north pole, its degraded walls suggesting evidence for an ancient period of tectonics.
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).
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.