Today, NASA released the highest resolution photos yet of Pluto taken by the New Horizons spacecraft on July 14th, when the probe made its closest approach to the dwarf planet. The photos were recently downloaded to Earth on September 19th.
The first image combines blue, red, and infrared images taken by New Horizons' Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) to capture a region that is 330 miles across. In the photo, strange, rippling ridges dot Pluto's surface near the line that separates day from night. New Horizons deputy lead William McKinnon likened the ridges to "tree bark" or "dragon scales." The textured mountains have been temporarily nicknamed Tartarus Dorsa.
Pluto's mountain ridges look like "tree bark" or "dragon scales"
In addition, NASA released a new "extended color" photo of Pluto — also taken by the Ralph instrument on July 14th. In it, the colors have been greatly enhanced to help accentuate various landforms, like mountains and craters.
Another image of Pluto's surface — taken by the New Horizons Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) imager — shows the dwarf planets geography in incredible detail. Features like dunes, icy mountains with sheer cliffs, and an ice lake can been seen in the photograph. The image also shows that the large heart-shaped region known as Sputnik Planum may not be as smooth as previously thought. It looks as though it's "pockmarked" with pits, ridges, and other textures.
The photos also demonstrate that methane, a chemical compound based off carbon, seems to be found in Pluto’s brighter areas. Sputnik Planum is abundant in methane ice — but its weird neighbor, the Cthulhu Regio, doesn’t have any. No one really knows why methane favors one region over the other.