Scientists on Earth have been receiving spectacular images of Pluto ever since NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed its famous flyby in July 14, 2015.
The last of the series is a new image of the dwarf planet showing nitrogen-ice plains, irregular mountains, and, perhaps, a big cloud passing through Pluto’s exotic skies.
NASA description of the view is making highlights all around the internet: people can now watch the “twilight zone” of Pluto. Captured shortly after New Horizons and Pluto had a close encounter, the picture shows the sun being on the other side of the demoted planet.
In the backlit twilight image, sunlight flows through Pluto’s multiple-layers atmosphere and illuminates over certain features, such as the vast plain known as Sputnik Planum and the towering Norgay Montes mountain range.
Also in the light is a curious feature, a bright wisp tens of miles across “that may be a discrete, low-lying cloud in Pluto’s atmosphere; if so, it would be the only one yet identified in New Horizons imagery,” explained NASA officials in a photo description on June 2.
According to atmospheric models, methane clouds can indeed form occasionally in Pluto’s atmosphere. All of these amazing features — plains, mountains, and possible cloud — lie in a sliver of sunlight, at the top the image.
However, peculiar landscape details have also been caught near the bottom of the photo, which depicts the dwarf planet’s night side.
“The topography here appears quite rugged, and broad valleys and sharp peaks with relief totaling 3 miles (5 kilometers) are apparent,” NASA officials wrote in the description of the photo.
The latest photo released by the New Horizons team was captured from a distance of roughly 13,400 miles (21,550 km) of Pluto. The closest the probe got to the ex-planet’s surface was within 7,800 miles or 12,550 km.
NASA officials revealed the amazing photo features a resolution of about 1,400 feet (430 meters) per pixel. But this is not the last we’ll see of Pluto.
According to the team on the ground, New Horizons is still sending flyby data home, and will keep on doing so through this coming fall. Its next project is getting closer to a small object called 2014 MU69, which is located about 1 billion miles (1.6 billion km) beyond Pluto.
Image Source: Phys.org