Vast mosaic shows Pluto’s surface in intricate detail
NASA has released a fresh mosaic of Pluto's surface stitched together from the highest resolution images captured by the spacecraft as it sped past the planetoid on July 14, 2015. The agency has accompanied the release with a video that takes the viewers on a tour of the mosaic, highlighting the stunning variety of terrain discovered by New Horizons.
Pluto and its large moon Charon have surprised planetary scientists again and again by showcasing a wide range of geological and atmospheric features. Many of the more visually-striking of the phenomena are captured in the new release, which boasts an average resolution of 260 ft (80 m) per pixel.
"This new image product is just magnetic," comments Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. "It makes me want to go back on another mission to Pluto and get high-resolution images like these across the entire surface."
The mosaic begins in the north west of the encounter hemisphere, extending across the face of the planetoid and ending near the night/day divide known as the "terminator line". The images used for the piece were taken by the spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), at a distance of 9,850 miles (15,850 km), a mere 23 minutes before closest approach.
The video flyby of Pluto's surface begins in the north west of the encounter hemisphere looking horizontally across the surface, panning down to reveal a series of large craters and a blocky mountain range before moving on to Sputnik Planum.
Due to the perspective from which the images were captured, Sputnik Planum dominates the majority of the mosaic. The unusual cell-like structure of the plain that forms Pluto's "heart" is shown in exquisite detail, before giving way to an unstructured nitrogen ice plain.
As the camera pans further down the plain becomes increasingly pitted and hummocky before finally transitioning into the darker highland terrain that borders the plain near the terminator line. At this point, the spacecraft is orientated to look straight at the planet's surface.
Scroll down to view a video tour of the new release courtesy of NASA.