The NASA New Horizons team has released a gorgeous full disk image of Pluto. I would predict that this high resolution image will be the definitive image of Pluto for at least a century. Expect to see this image any time you run across Pluto in any media, from Wikipedia to school textbooks.
Panning across the image one can see that Pluto does feature a fair number of impact craters, more than I noted on the earlier images that often concentrated on the ice fields of the Sputnik Planum. This ice cap is startlingly smooth, with flow features visible, primarily at the margins. The ice is probably nitrogen ice as water is essentially a rock at these temperatures. Indeed much of the bedrock visible across the image is probably water ice.
The ice sheet is made up of polygons, a feature sometimes seen in ice here on Earth. For some reason the boundaries of the polygons are marked with long linear double depressions. These depressions look like 4WD roads across a desert of sand, if the vehicles had tires a mile across.
On the right side of the ice fields of Sputnik Planum there are a a large number of aeolian features, huge ridges one would suppose are aligned with the prevailing winds. Given that the image resolution is 0.8 miles per pixel these features must be miles high. These have recently been dubbed snakeskin terrain. I expect the planetary scientists will have a bit of fun trying to figure these out.
It is a beautiful image, conveying a great sense of what this dwarf planet is really like. Download the high resolution image and just wander. The larger image is bigger than WordPress will allow, use the link above to get the full size image.
As the New Horizons data trickles back to Earth we are being treated to ever better images of this distant dwarf planet. Soaring mountains, glaciers of nitrogen ice flowing into ice caps that cover huge areas, a hazy and layered atmosphere, Pluto has turned out to be a surprise to just about every one. Those who expected an ancient cratered terrain have been presented with a surprisingly dynamic world.
Click on the image for more information, click again for the big version to really appreciate…
With the New Horizons spacecraft successfully making its flyby of Pluto, we are now getting the first close up images of this distant world. The spacecraft went into radio silence for 22 hours while it maneuvered to photograph Pluto and its moons. The first signal returned was simply a full status report, and only now, a day later are we beginning to see the imagery returned. Given the 2.9 billion miles between the spacecraft and Earth, it will take about 16 months to get all of the data back.
The first images are fascinating! Eleven thousand foot high ice mountains create a rugged landscape. I find myself waiting for further images, the surface of Pluto promises to be far different than any terrain we have seen elsewhere in the solar system.
To celebrate the arrival of the new Horizons Probe at Pluto next week the W. M. Keck Observatory is holding a special lecture.
NASA Spacecraft New Horizons Pluto Flyby:
Special Talk by NASA Scientist Eliot Young
Just hours before their observing run at Keck Observatory will start, NASA scientists Eliot Young and his team will give a talk in the Hualalai Conference room at Keck Observatory’s headquarters in Waimea. Join us at 7:00p to learn about the science of Pluto, the Kuiper belt, dwarf planets and more.
At 1:49am the next morning, the NASA New Horizons spacecraft is scheduled to make its closest approach to Pluto, and Young’s team will be collecting close-up data on the dwarf planet and other distant solar system objects for the first time ever.
Young is the principal scientist from the Southwest Research Institute, one of the partners involved in the building of the New Horizons craft.