NASA reveals closest glimpse of Pluto we’ll see for decades

30 May 2016

A close-up shot of Pluto. Image via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

More incredible imagery continues to come out of NASA’s New Horizons mission, with the latest mosaic strip of Pluto’s surface the closest-ever image of the dwarf planet, and likely the closest we’ll see for decades to come.

The New Horizons spacecraft may be heading towards the outer edges of our solar system on a follow-up mission to the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt some time in 2019, but its successful passing of Pluto last year continues to throw up interesting findings.

Its latest return has seen an incredible mosaic strip composed of the highest-resolution images taken by the NASA probe with a resolution of about 80m per pixel, allowing us the best opportunity to examine the fine details of the various types of terrain on Pluto, and determine the processes that formed and shaped them.

In the video clip generated from the mosaic, the view is extensive, originating from what is known as the ‘limb’ of Pluto, right up to the ‘terminator’ location where night turns to day in the southeast of the encounter hemisphere.

This strip ranges from more than 90km at its northern end to about 75km at its southern point.

‘It makes me want to go back on another mission to Pluto’

As you can see from the clip, we now have unprecedented black-and-white detail of Pluto’s varied terrain, which includes the cratered uplands, angular mountains and nitrogen ice fields.

New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was approximately 15,850km from Pluto during this particular flyby, about 23 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach.

Speaking of the new footage, Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator, said: “This new image product is just magnetic.

“It makes me want to go back on another mission to Pluto and get high-resolution images like these across the entire surface.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic