Washington: NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has delivered new images of Pluto revealing new details about the icy planet's majestic mountains, frozen plains and foggy hazes.
The latest images have scientists stunned – not only for their breathtking views of the icy world, but also for the 'strangely arctic look'.
The images, released Thursday by NASA, were taken from a distance of 18,000 kilometres on July 14 during New Horizons' historic flyby of Pluto and downlinked to Earth on September 13.
This new view of Pluto’s crescent, taken by New Horizons’ wide-angle Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC), offers an oblique look across Plutonian landscapes with dramatic backlighting from the sun.
It spectacularly highlights Pluto’s varied terrains and extended atmosphere. The scene measures 780 miles (1,250 kilometers) across, explained NASA in its release.
“This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado.
Owing to its favorable backlighting and high resolution, this MVIC image also reveals new details of hazes throughout Pluto’s tenuous but extended nitrogen atmosphere.
“In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth,” said Will Grundy, lead of the New Horizons Composition team from Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona.
Combined with other recently downloaded pictures, this new image also provides evidence for a remarkably Earth-like “hydrological” cycle on Pluto - but involving soft and exotic ices, including nitrogen, rather than water ice.
Launched in 2006, New Horizons spacecraft became the first-ever space mission to explore the icy planet.