NASA has released the first colored photos of Pluto. The images were taken on the 14th of July, when New Horizon, NASA’s space probe that was launched as part of the program called New Frontiers, flew by the planet.
The pictures show a mosaic-like structure that includes both mountains and plains. More exactly, they feature the al-Idrisi mountains, made of icy water, the Sputnik Planum that is so rich in nitrogen and Pluto’s icy plains. In total, the images represent an 80 kilometer wide strip.
They are some of the clearest and most revealing pictures of Pluto, and were obtained only 5 months after the first flyby. This is quite a feat considering that for Venus and Mars, images of this quality were available only several decades after the first flyby.
The pictures have a resolution of about 85 m per pixel, which means that the features shown have the size of about half a city block. They were obtained by combining pictures from LORRI, a camera on the New Horizon taken 15 minutes before New Horizons reached the closest spot to Pluto with data obtained from MVIC, an infrared camera.
Scientists are excited about the information they have been able to learn about Pluto’s geology from these pictures. They have identified what appear to be dunes, nitrogen ice waves, which seem to have sprung out of the mountains, and valleys – probably made by some form of liquid that flows on Pluto.
What is most exciting is that there appears to be such a variety of landforms, as has seldom been seen in any other place in our solar system.
Other data that has been accrued from these pictures is that Pluto’s surface contains pits with a depth of tens of yards and a width of hundreds of yards. But the fact that they are very few suggests that they are relatively new.
And there is still more information to come, as for the next year, New Horizon will keep sending data it collected in July.
Image source: www.pixabay.com