The New Horizons spacecraft had taken the most impressive images so far from the surface of Pluto. NASA made public the photographs that were taken in July 2015, when New Horizons reached the closest distance to Pluto.
The mission started when Pluto was still thought to be a planet. At this point, NASA doesn’t have any further plans to explore Pluto. Without any new missions, it’s probable that these images will be the most relevant information that we will have on Pluto for the next few decades.
The data was recorded as a long strip image in black and white, following the movement of the planet.
Pluto’s surface displays patterns of a wide variety. The mission’s managers have created a video with the most detailed pictures, which can be seen on NASA’s website.
“Starting with hummocky, cratered uplands at top, the view crosses over parallel ridges of the ‘washboard’ terrain; chaotic and angular mountain ranges; the craterless, cellular plains; coarsely ‘pitted’ areas of sublimating nitrogen ice; zones of thin nitrogen ice draped over the topography below; and rugged, dark, mountainous highlands scarred by deep pits,” reported Jet Propulsion Laboratory, one of the teams involved in the New Horizons mission.
The photographs had been captured by an instrument named Long Range Reconnaissance Imager. Each pixel from the picture covers approximately 260 feet. The complete strip unveils 55 miles of the surface on the upper side and gets narrower at its low end.
The bottom of the long strip image captures the moment when the day on Pluto turned to night.
New Horizons was as close as 9,850 miles from the space body when the pictures were taken.
The perspective of the observatory shifted while taking the images. In the beginning, the picture of the craters is taken from an angle, sideways, and at the end, the craters can be seen from just above.
Scientists will use these pictures to determine what the history of Pluto was and how the body was created. They hope to answer questions regarding the surface properties, geology, interior structure and atmosphere of the body.
New Horizons was launched on January 19th, 2006. Nine years later, in July 2015, the spacecraft reached the closest distance to Pluto and managed to take the most detailed images of its surface.
The goal of the mission was to observe Pluto and its moons. Another target was to investigate objects from the Kuiper Belt, which is one of the oldest space formations from our Universe.
NASA did not make public any announcements on the next course of the mission. If the initial plan is kept, New Horizons will continue its trip and reach Kuiper Belt. The disc of space objects is 20 times larger than an asteroid belt, and it’s located beyond the eight planets of our solar system.
Image Source: Wikipedia