Video: Best Photos of Pluto We May See for Decades

December 7, 2015 | Elizabeth Knowles

Photo credit: NASA

NASA releases super-high resolution images of Pluto’s craters, mountains and ice fields.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a nuclear powered probe about the size of a baby grand piano, was launched on January 19, 2006 and flew by Pluto on July 14, 2015. However, here on Earth, we are only now receiving what NASA has described as “the best close-ups of Pluto that humans may see for decades.”

John Grunsfeld, former astronaut and associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate said: "New Horizons thrilled us during the July flyby with the first close images of Pluto, and as the spacecraft transmits the treasure trove of images in its onboard memory back to us, we continue to be amazed by what we see." Previous image compilations have been created, but what makes this one special is the sharpness of the pictures. With a resolution of 250 – 280 feet per pixel, these images show features that are smaller than the size of half a city block.

SEE ALSO: Pluto Has Volcanoes But They Don’t Spew Lava

The terrain is diverse with craters, mountains and glaciers, and the pictures cover a 50-mile wide strip beginning about 500 miles Northwest of the ice fields called Sputnik Planum, across the al-Idrisi mountains, and onto the icy plains.

They were taken using the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard the probe over the course of about a minute, while just over 10,000 miles away.

"These new images give us a breathtaking, super-high resolution window into Pluto's geology," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.

When compared to the images captured of other planets and moons, these ones become even more amazing. "Nothing of this quality was available for Venus or Mars until decades after their first flybys; yet at Pluto we're there already — down among the craters, mountains and ice fields — less than five months after flyby! The science we can do with these images is simply unbelievable," said Stern. They are five times better than the best available images of Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, taken by Voyager 2 in 1989.

More images from the same set will become available over the next few days, so who knows what we may see from this dwarf planet located over 3 billion miles away! Other new pictures and data will continue to be sent back to Earth until early 2016.

You might also like: Now that It's Passed Pluto, What's Next for New Horizons?

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