NASA Got Really Close to Pluto and There Are Amazing Photos To Prove It
Ah, Pluto. Always a mystery, our favorite planet, and a matter of contention among scientists. This year, Pluto made major headlines for messing with our earthling brains. At one point, it totally looked like Pluto the Dog was plastered across the face of the planet. At another, Kim Kardashian’s infamous Paper magazine photo shared space with the planet’s surface. And there’s still controversy over Pluto’s demotion from planet to dwarf planet in 2006.
But now, NASA has managed to take some stellar, clear-as-day pictures of Pluto’s surface from extremely close up, and the photos are extraordinarily detailed. Take a look:
These images were taken 15 minutes after closest approach, from 10,000 miles above the surface of the planet. The photos show details as small as half a city block.
New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado wrote about the new photographs in a NASA news release:
“These new images give us a breathtaking, super-high resolution window into Pluto’s geology. Nothing of this quality was available for Venus or Mars until decades after their first flybys; yet at Pluto we’re there already – down among the craters, mountains and icefields – less than five months after flyby! The science we can do with these images is simply unbelievable.”
It’s even more impressive if you think about how far away Pluto is: 4.67 billion miles from earth. And these photos are simply the first in a series of photographs to be released soon.
The photos show such geographical features as Pluto’s rugged craters, its water-ice crust jammed together and thus forming the al-Idrisi mountains, its icy plains, rounded peaks and short ridges. It’s definitely a pockmarked planet, and could provide more in-depth information about the early universe.
William McKinnon, deputy lead of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team, from Washington University in St. Louis, wrote about the importance of learning about Pluto’s surface:
“Impact craters are nature’s drill rigs, and the new, highest-resolution pictures of the bigger craters seem to show that Pluto’s icy crust, at least in places, is distinctly layered. Looking into Pluto’s depths is looking back into geologic time, which will help us piece together Pluto’s geological history.”
The probe New Horizons has only downloaded about 40 percent of its current data, and will report all of it back late next year. So the next year will provide even more Pluto news, and more fodder for pro-Pluto enthusiasts.