31 May 2016

NASA gets a better picture of Pluto's surface

Back in December, NASA shared its best Pluto close-ups gathered by New Horizons. It was a detailed, but incomplete set -- now, the plucky probe has transferred more data back to Earth, allowing researchers to stitch togetherthe rest of the picture. The new "mosaic strip" covers a larger part of Pluto's surface -- a diagonal segment crossing the face of the dwarf planet while New Horizons flew by on July 14th, 2015. You can take a look at the full image here, or watch a brief tour video NASA has put together.

The top of the image begins at Pluto's craterous "limb," before descending through some "washboard" terrain, a collection of sharp, chaotic mountains and a stretch of nitrogen ice plains. Towards the bottom, near the "terminator" line -- which separates day and night -- these fields give way to rugged highlands punctuated with deep, dark pits. The width of the strip varies from more than 55 miles (90 kilometers) at the top to roughly 45 miles (75 kilometers) at the bottom. It was captured with the LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera on board New Horizons.

This movie moves down the mosaic from top to bottom, offering new views of many of Pluto’s distinct landscapes along the way. Starting with hummocky, cratered uplands at top, the view crosses over parallel ridges of “washboard” terrain, chaotic and angular mountain ranges, cellular plains, coarsely “pitted” areas of sublimating nitrogen ice, zones of thin nitrogen ice draped over the topography below, and dark mountainous highlands scarred by deep pits.
The pictures in the mosaic were obtained by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) approximately 9,850 miles (15,850 kilometers) from Pluto, about 23 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach.