Six months after NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto, we're still getting amazing images from the tiny probe. Today, NASA released a stunning enhanced color mosaic of Pluto's surface. The photo, which is the highest-resolution image taken by New Horizons, takes us into the "badlands" of northwest of Sputnik Planum — the icy planes that make up part of the famous "heart" on the dwarf planet.
The photo is a combination of images taken by the spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) just 15 minutes before its closest approach to Pluto. At that point, New Horizons was just 10,000 miles away from the small world, able to capture these photos with resolutions of about 250-280 feet per pixel. The black-and-white version of the mosaic was released last week. To make this version, NASA scientists used color data gathered from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera to map hues onto the image. Apparently, that isn't very easy.
Along with the mosaic, NASA released a high-resolution image of a pitted area on Pluto, also within the heart-shaped region informally named Tombaugh Regio. The picture was taken just two minutes after the images in the colored mosaic — which explains why it's so clear. It reveals a punctured terrain filled with pits, which likely formed through the fracturing and evaporation of ice. NASA scientists hope to study the positions of these pits to learn more about how ice flows through the region, as well as how nitrogen and other materials are exchanged between the surface and the atmosphere.
- This enhanced color view of Pluto’s surface is made from a mosaic of the most high-resolution images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft. The images were taken from about 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers) away about 15 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach. The detail shown here is about 250-280 feet (77-85 meters) per pixel. In total, the mosaic stretches 50 miles (80 kilometers) from top to bottom.
- This image shows off a 50-by-50 mile patch of Pluto’s surface dotted with “pits,” likely formed from the fracturing and evaporation of surface ice. They measure hundreds of yards across and tens of yards deep, and are thought to be relatively young (as far as surface features go.) This image was taken 13 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach at a distance of 9,550 miles (15,400 kilometers.)