Photos being sent back by the New Horizons spacecraft of Pluto’s surface continue to amaze researchers, with new close-up images showing terrain not too dissimilar to that of Earth.
Pluto pictures have been returning to Earth regularly for the past few weeks as part of a major data dump from the New Horizons craft, but due to the distances the data needs to travel it is only now we’re getting a real glimpse of the dwarf planet.
These latest photos were taken by the spacecraft’s wide-angle Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) with the dramatic backdrop of the sun.
Like the previous batch of released pictures, the mesmerising haze that envelopes the planet was revealed in even more detail, showing more than a dozen thin layers at least 100km above the surface.
With these new images, some surprising Earth-like features have been found as well, with some of the pictures providing evidence of a hydrological cycle on Pluto.
The difference being, however, that Pluto’s cycle involves the dwarf planet’s nitrogen ice and other native chemical compounds.
Much of this ice appears to be located at Pluto’s striking heart-shaped feature dubbed Sputnik Planum, which was eventually deposited on the eastern side of Pluto.
There are also signs of glaciers flowing back into this vast, flat region, which are reminiscent of the frozen streams on the margins of ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica.
“This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself,” said New Horizons’ Principal Investigator Alan Stern.
“But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains. Pluto is surprisingly Earth-like in this regard and no one predicted it.”