New Image of Pluto: 'Houston, We Have Geology'

July 11, 2015 by Tricia Talbert
Tantalizing signs of geology on Pluto are revealed in this image from New Horizons taken on July 9, 2015 from 3.3 million miles (5.4 million kilometers) away.

It began as a point of light. Then, it evolved into a fuzzy orb. Now – in its latest portrait from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft – Pluto is being revealed as an intriguing new world with distinct surface features, including an immense dark band known as the "whale."

As the newest black and white image from New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) appeared on the morning of July 10, members of the science team reacted with joy and delight, seeing Pluto as never before. There will no doubt be many similar moments to come. New images and data are being gathered each day as New Horizons speeds closer to a July 14 flyby of Pluto, following a journey of three billion miles.

"We're close enough now that we're just starting to see Pluto's geology," said New Horizons program scientist Curt Niebur, NASA Headquarters in Washington, who's keenly interested in the gray area just above the whale's "tail" feature. "It's a unique transition region with a lot of dynamic processes interacting, which makes it of particular scientific interest."

New Horizons' latest image of Pluto was taken on July 9, 2015 from 3.3 million miles (5.4 million kilometers) away, with a resolution of 17 miles (27 kilometers) per pixel. At this range, Pluto is beginning to reveal the first signs of discrete geologic features. This image views the side of Pluto that always faces its largest moon, Charon, and includes the so-called "tail" of the dark whale-shaped feature along its equator. (The immense, bright feature shaped like a heart had rotated from view when this image was captured.)

An annotated version indicates features described in the text, and includes a reference globe showing Pluto’s orientation in the image, with the equator and central meridian in bold.

"Among the structures tentatively identified in this new image are what appear to be polygonal features; a complex band of terrain stretching east-northeast across the planet, approximately 1,000 miles long; and a complex region where bright terrains meet the dark terrains of the whale," said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern. "After nine and a half years in flight, Pluto is well worth the wait."

Science team members react to the latest image of Pluto at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab on July 10, 2015. Left to right: Cathy Olkin, Jason Cook, Alan Stern, Will Grundy, Casey Lisse, and Carly Howett. Credit: Michael Soluri

Explore further: New Horizons color images reveal two distinct faces of Pluto

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xstos
5 / 5 (15) Jul 11, 2015
Congrats to the scientists and engineers that made this possible! :)
axemaster
4.7 / 5 (14) Jul 11, 2015
I feel so lucky to live in a time where we're still making such discoveries! It's a real thrill to realize how much is still out there waiting for us!
Returners
2.2 / 5 (5) Jul 11, 2015
So what does the spectrometer show regarding these formations? What is the elemental chemistry involved?

Black and white is amazing for high resolution images, but it doesn't tell us what the materials are made of.
NeutronicallyRepulsive
5 / 5 (7) Jul 11, 2015
What a surprise. It proves again that reality is more interesting than any dream. Seems like Pluto is somewhat more complex than a cold (barely) round rock I thought it to be. I hope we'll see much more of Pluto in the upcoming months.
RM07
5 / 5 (1) Jul 11, 2015
It'd be pretty cool if they'd post the schedule of when new pictures are supposed to arrive.

New Horizons is traveling about 750,000 miles/day, so it should now be about 2 million miles away from Pluto, give or take.
gkam
3.2 / 5 (9) Jul 11, 2015
I'm waiting for the goobers who still maintain we faked the moon landings.

RM07, I think it will be several days before they send much back. In the story of the recent glitch, they mentioned time is short, and they may use all facilities in the recon, then, use the computer to send the data to us later.
Benni
1.8 / 5 (10) Jul 11, 2015
I'm waiting for the goobers who still maintain we faked the moon landings.
.........no, no, no......it's JT's DM Cosmic Fairy Dust making 99% of the planet impossible to see that is the problem here. In accordance with "Beyond GR", we should all be complaining we can't see 99% of what we're looking at, but at least there are a few here not feeling cheated.

Returners
1.4 / 5 (7) Jul 11, 2015
pixie dust gravity and anti-gravity hidden forces which show no local evidence of existing.

Good one Benni
RM07
5 / 5 (5) Jul 11, 2015
RM07, I think it will be several days before they send much back. In the story of the recent glitch, they mentioned time is short, and they may use all facilities in the recon, then, use the computer to send the data to us later.

Yes, apparently they'll be downloading data from the flyby for a full year (reportedly at 1kbps!!).

Still, I suspect they'll be transmitting at least one picture/day on the approach, as they've roughly been doing. They'd want to make sure all the instruments are working, cameras are focusing, etc.

They're building quite a bit of anticipation with these pictures -- they should seize the opportunity for some nice science marketing to the general public, like the 7-minutes-of-terror Mars landing provided. )
geokstr
1.8 / 5 (10) Jul 11, 2015
Happy to see they are all wearing politically correct shirts, or perhaps the ones who weren't have already been carted off the premises crying, by the triumphant SJWs, who will now ensure they never get a job higher than pre-school potty attendant.
JustAnotherGuy
4.3 / 5 (6) Jul 11, 2015
Amazing! So far so good.. ...dwarf planet, uh? ...It's a rockstar!
So far away and so cold this thing is "alive" and loves the cameras..
Resembles Titan surface on that pic. Are those cracks and little icebergs around a large equatorial lake? Whatever, hope they can reveal soon..
jonesdave
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 11, 2015
It's probably electric. Bound to be. :)
Shabs42
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 12, 2015
Happy to see they are all wearing politically correct shirts, or perhaps the ones who weren't have already been carted off the premises crying, by the triumphant SJWs, who will now ensure they never get a job higher than pre-school potty attendant.


Yes, instead of focusing on the amazing accomplishments of the team, let's rag on a prestigious university for enforcing a business casual dress code. How dare they!
verkle
Jul 12, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
PhysicsMatter
1.4 / 5 (5) Jul 12, 2015
Voyager 1 and 2 launched in 1970-ties left solar system decades ago and Voyager 2 left heliosphere and entered interstellar medium over a decade ago all run on computing power of simplest $5 calculator. That's what I call achievement. It gives some reference to these interesting news but no so exciting news. Congratulations but it is not an amazing achievement after almost 70 years of space age but sadly almost too little and almost too late.
Mimath224
5 / 5 (1) Jul 12, 2015
@xstos & axemaster I agree and I think that it's a great shame that governments can't spend more on such ventures. Those central patterns look very intriguing and the polygonal shape makes me think of the shapes on Saturn...not saying they are produced by the same process.
docile
Jul 12, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
MP3Car
5 / 5 (2) Jul 14, 2015
I can't imagine what it was like for the baby boomers to be around during the moon landing (I am in my mid-30's)! Don't get me wrong, this is an amazing feat to reach pluto, but if we're this excited about photos of pluto, just imagine what it was like to look up there in your back yard at the moon knowing we just set foot on the surface!
gkam
3 / 5 (4) Jul 14, 2015
MP3, I found it as amazing to stay at home and see the first downloads of our first pictures of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn as they came in.

But you are right, we all went out after seeing the transmissions from the Moon and looked up at it, as if we could see anything on it.
mreda14
1 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2015
I though the NASA's New Horizons spacecraft supposed to meet Pluto on the 4th of July.

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