New Horizons’ Top Ten Images, Discoveries at Pluto

New Horizons’ Top Ten Images, Discoveries at Pluto

New Horizons’ Top Ten Images, Discoveries at Pluto

One year ago, NASA’s New Horizons space probe entered the history books by exploring the Pluto system. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

Horizons : One year ago, NASA’s New Horizons space probe entered the history books by exploring the Pluto system. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

After a journey of 9.5 years through the Solar System, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015.

Since then, the spacecraft has sent back spectacular images of the dwarf planet, its largest moon Charon and four smaller moons, as well as many other kinds of data.

New Horizons’ Top 10 Pictures

From Pluto’s iconic ‘heart’ to its flowing glaciers and blue skies, it’s hard to pick just one favorite picture. So members of the New Horizons team have picked 10.

1. Pluto’s heart:

This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the ‘heart,’ which measures 1,000 miles (1,600 km) across. Much of the heart’s interior appears featureless — possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes.

Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015, when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 km) from the dwarf planet’s surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the ‘heart,’ which measures around 1,000 miles (1,600 km) across. The heart’s diameter is about the same distance as from Denver to Chicago, in America’s heartland. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless-possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015, when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 km) from the dwarf planet’s surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the ‘heart,’ which measures around 1,000 miles (1,600 km) across. The heart’s diameter is about the same distance as from Denver to Chicago, in America’s heartland. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless-possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

2. Pluto’s big moon Charon:

Charon is the largest satellite relative to its planet in the Solar System. Many planetary scientists expected the moon to be a monotonous, crater-battered world. Instead, they’re finding a landscape covered with mountains, canyons, landslides, surface-color variations and more.

This impressive view of Charon was captured on July 14, 2015. Charon’s color palette is not as diverse as Pluto’s; most striking is the reddish north (top) polar region, informally named Mordor Macula. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

This impressive view of Charon was captured on July 14, 2015. Charon’s color palette is not as diverse as Pluto’s; most striking is the reddish north (top) polar region, informally named Mordor Macula. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

3. Pluto and Charon in enhanced color:

This composite of enhanced color images of Pluto and Charon highlights the striking differences between the two bodies. The color and brightness of both Pluto and Charon have been processed identically to allow direct comparison of their surface properties, and to highlight the similarity between Charon’s polar red terrain and Pluto’s equatorial red terrain. Pluto and Charon are shown with approximately correct relative sizes, but their true separation is not to scale.

This composite image shows Pluto (lower right) and Charon (upper left). The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft’s Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

This composite image shows Pluto (lower right) and Charon (upper left). The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the spacecraft’s Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

4. Spectacular backlit panorama of Pluto:

This view of Pluto’s crescent — taken by New Horizons’ MVIC camera on July 14, 2015, and downlinked to Earth on September 13 — offers an oblique look across Plutonian landscapes with dramatic backlighting from the Sun. It spectacularly highlights Pluto’s varied terrains and extended atmosphere.

This panoramic image of Pluto highlights dwarf planet’s varied terrains and extended atmosphere. The scene measures 780 miles (1,250 km) across. The smooth expanse of Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3.5 km) high, including Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. To the right, east of Sputnik, rougher terrain is cut by apparent glaciers. The backlighting highlights over a dozen layers of haze in the atmosphere of Pluto. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 km) to Pluto. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

This panoramic image of Pluto highlights dwarf planet’s varied terrains and extended atmosphere. The scene measures 780 miles (1,250 km) across. The smooth expanse of Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3.5 km) high, including Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. To the right, east of Sputnik, rougher terrain is cut by apparent glaciers. The backlighting highlights over a dozen layers of haze in the atmosphere of Pluto. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 km) to Pluto. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

5. Pluto’s blue skies:

The thin atmosphere of Pluto rings its silhouette like a blue halo in this picture taken by New Horizons’ Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera.

New Horizons looks toward the night side of Pluto and sees sunlight scattering through the periphery of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere and forming a ring of blue color. This image was generated by software that combines information from blue, red and near-infrared images to replicate the color a human eye would perceive as closely as possible. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

New Horizons looks toward the night side of Pluto and sees sunlight scattering through the periphery of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere and forming a ring of blue color. This image was generated by software that combines information from blue, red and near-infrared images to replicate the color a human eye would perceive as closely as possible. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

6. Exotic ices on Pluto:

New Horizons found evidence of exotic ices flowing across Pluto’s surface, at the left edge of its bright heart-shaped area.

In the northern region of Sputnik Planum, swirl-shaped patterns of light and dark suggest that a surface layer of exotic ices has flowed around obstacles and into depressions, much like glaciers on Earth. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

In the northern region of Sputnik Planum, swirl-shaped patterns of light and dark suggest that a surface layer of exotic ices has flowed around obstacles and into depressions, much like glaciers on Earth. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

7. Jagged ice shorelines and snowy pits:

This enhanced color view zooms in on the southeastern portion of Pluto’s great ice plains, where at lower right the plains border rugged, dark highlands named Krun Macula. Pluto is believed to get its dark red color from tholins, complex molecules found across much of the surface. Krun Macula rises 1.5 miles (2.5 km) above the surrounding plain –named Sputnik Planum – and is scarred by clusters of connected, roughly circular pits that typically reach between 5 and 8 miles (8 and 13 km) across, and up to 1.5 miles (2.5 km) deep. At the boundary with Sputnik Planum, these pits form deep valleys reaching more than 25 miles (40 km) long, 12.5 miles (20 km) wide and almost 2 miles (3 km) deep and have floors covered with nitrogen ice. New Horizons scientists think these pits may have formed through surface collapse, although what may have prompted such a collapse is a mystery.

This dramatic image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows the dark, rugged highlands known as Krun Macula (lower right), which border a section of Pluto’s icy plains. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

This dramatic image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows the dark, rugged highlands known as Krun Macula (lower right), which border a section of Pluto’s icy plains. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

8. Snakeskin terrain:

This image from New Horizons shows ‘bladed’ terrain in a region known as Tartarus Dorsa. A digital elevation model created by New Horizons scientists shows that the bladed structures have typical relief of about 1,640 feet (500 m). Their relative spacing of 1.9-3.1 miles (3-5) km makes them some of the steepest features seen on Pluto.

The bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

The bladed terrain of Tartarus Dorsa. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

9. Methane snow on Pluto’s peaks:

New Horizons discovered a chain of exotic snowcapped mountains stretching across the dark expanse on Pluto’s Cthulhu Regio.

Mountains in Cthulhu Regio. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

Mountains in Cthulhu Regio. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

10. Composition maps of Pluto:

The powerful instruments on New Horizons not only gave scientists insight on what Pluto looked like, their data also confirmed (or, in many cases, dispelled) their ideas of what Pluto was made of. These compositional maps indicate the regions rich in ices of methane (CH4), nitrogen (N2), carbon monoxide (CO), and, of course, water ice (H2O).

These composition maps were assembled using data from the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) component of New Horizons’ Ralph instrument. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

These composition maps were assembled using data from the Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) component of New Horizons’ Ralph instrument. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute.

New Horizons’ Top 10 Discoveries

Dr. Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator and a researcher at the Southwest Research Institute, lists the mission’s most surprising findings from Pluto:

1. The complexity of Pluto and its satellites is far beyond what planetary scientists expected.

2. The degree of current activity on Pluto’s surface and the youth of some surfaces on the dwarf planet are astounding.

3. Pluto’s atmospheric hazes and lower-than-predicted atmospheric escape rate upended all of the pre-flyby models.

4. Pluto’s atmosphere is blue.

5. Pluto’s heart-shaped nitrogen glacier – known as Sputnik Planum – is the largest known glacier in the Solar System.

6. Pluto shows evidence of vast changes in atmospheric pressure and, possibly, past presence of running or standing liquid volatiles on its surface – something only seen elsewhere on Earth, Mars and Saturn’s moon Titan.

7. Charon’s dark, red polar cap is unprecedented in the Solar System and may be the result of atmospheric gases that escaped Pluto and then accreted on Charon’s surface.

8. Charon’s enormous equatorial extensional tectonic belt hints at the freezing of a former water ice ocean inside Charon in the distant past. Other evidence found by New Horizons indicates Pluto could well have an internal water-ice ocean today.

9. All of Pluto’s moons that can be age-dated by surface craters have the same, ancient age – adding weight to the theory that they were formed together in a single collision between Pluto and another planet in the Kuiper Belt long ago.

10. The lack of additional Pluto satellites beyond what was discovered before New Horizons was unexpected.

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