Space

New high-res Pluto images show "snakeskin surface"

New high-res Pluto images show...
High resolution image of the Tartarus Dorsa mountain range spanning 330 miles (530 km) across
High resolution image of the Tartarus Dorsa mountain range spanning 330 miles (530 km) across
View 5 Images
High resolution image of the Tartarus Dorsa mountain range spanning 330 miles (530 km) across
1/5
High resolution image of the Tartarus Dorsa mountain range spanning 330 miles (530 km) across
The highest resolution shot of Pluto's surface returned by New Horizons to date, spanning 330 miles (530 km)
2/5
The highest resolution shot of Pluto's surface returned by New Horizons to date, spanning 330 miles (530 km)
Extended color view of the dwarf planet Pluto taken on September 19 by the spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI)
3/5
Extended color view of the dwarf planet Pluto taken on September 19 by the spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI)
Close up view of Sputnik Planum displaying previously unseen surface imperfections
4/5
Close up view of Sputnik Planum displaying previously unseen surface imperfections
This image contains data from New Horizons' Ralph/LEISA infrared spectrometer. The globe on the left displays methane ice distribution. The globe on the right shows this data overlayed on high res images taken by LORRI
5/5
This image contains data from New Horizons' Ralph/LEISA infrared spectrometer. The globe on the left displays methane ice distribution. The globe on the right shows this data overlayed on high res images taken by LORRI

NASA has released the highest resolution views of Pluto to date, as the agency's New Horizons spacecraft continues its intensive year-long data transfer. The gallery includes, for the first time, data from the spacecraft's infrared spectrometer, which has mapped the distribution of methane ice on the dwarf planet.

Previous treasures fromthe data download have provided us with a wealth of stunning imageryand scientific insights into the nature of Pluto. We have seen vasticy plains, mountain ranges and even proof of a hydrological cycle at work in the dwarf planet's atmosphere.

The new images addanother page in our exploration of this enigmatic celestial body. Oneshot in particular (above) has taken the New Horizons team aback,features a landscape of aligned ridges that combine to give thesurface a snakeskin-like appearance. It was captured by the spacecraft'sRalph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) and contains a viewof the Tartarus Dorsa mountains, highlighted beautifully in the shotby the terminator line.

Extended color view of the dwarf planet Pluto taken on September 19 by the spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI)
Extended color view of the dwarf planet Pluto taken on September 19 by the spacecraft's Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI)

Also included in thenew release was an "extended color" view of the dwarfplanet, which enhanced Pluto's natural hues with the infrared channelof the MVIC to emphasize the myriad colors saturating the surfaceof the unusual "not planet."

"Pluto’s surfacecolors were enhanced in this view to reveal subtle details in arainbow of pale blues, yellows, oranges, and deep reds", statesJohn Spencer, a GGI deputy lead from Southwest Research Institute(SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. "Many landforms have their owndistinct colors, telling a wonderfully complex geological andclimatological story that we have only just begun to decode."

The highest resolution shot of Pluto's surface returned by New Horizons to date, spanning 330 miles (530 km)
The highest resolution shot of Pluto's surface returned by New Horizons to date, spanning 330 miles (530 km)

Images from thespacecraft's narrow-angle Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI)present the most detailed view of Pluto's surface to date. The color-enhanced image shown above contains a section of the SputnikPlanum basin to the right, as well as mountains and craters in themore broken region on the left. Taken shortly before New Horizons'closest approach to the dwarf planet, the image allows viewers topick out relatively small features spanning only 270 yards (250 m).

Close up view of Sputnik Planum displaying previously unseen surface imperfections
Close up view of Sputnik Planum displaying previously unseen surface imperfections

Sputnik Planum, whichhas been the focal point of many of the images returned by NewHorizons, is featured once more in the release. Ahigher resolutionimage of the plain shows that its apparently smooth surface is infact marked with pits and ridges, at odds with the seemingly pristineimage presented from afar. The team have mooted that the terrain maybe the result of sublimation similar to the process taking place on67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

This image contains data from New Horizons' Ralph/LEISA infrared spectrometer. The globe on the left displays methane ice distribution. The globe on the right shows this data overlayed on high res images taken by LORRI
This image contains data from New Horizons' Ralph/LEISA infrared spectrometer. The globe on the left displays methane ice distribution. The globe on the right shows this data overlayed on high res images taken by LORRI

For the first time, NewHorizons has included data from its infrared spectrometer. Readingsreturned from the spectrometer show highly contrasting levels ofmethane ice distribution across the surface of Pluto. The ice appearsto have settled heavily in the Sputnik Planum region while almostcompletely avoiding other duller regions. NASA scientists are unsurewhether the ice settled as a result of the brightness of the terrain,or whether the condensation from the ice is itself the reason for thebrightness.

"With thesejust-downlinked images and maps, we’ve turned a new page in thestudy of Pluto beginning to reveal the planet at high resolution inboth color and composition," Alan Stern, Principal Investigator ofthe New Horizons mission. "I wish Pluto’s discoverer ClydeTombaugh had lived to see this day."

Source: NASA

2 comments
SuperFool
Why isn't anyone looking for volunteers for a 1 way trip to Pluto? It's the cost isn't it.
IvanWashington
I wonder what the up-close-and-personal surface texture is like there, especially in the plains? sandy? gritty? pebbly? and if the light on the surface is like that of our moon, or if the vestigial atmosphere makes it appear rather of the same dispersed light quality as that found with the Huygens probe?