Officials from NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) announced in a statement that the New Horizons probe, slated to make the first-ever flyby of Pluto on July 14, has taken pictures that have revealed more details of the dwarf planet’s varied and complex surface.
The images were captured through the use of New Horizons’ long-range camera between May 8 and May 12. At the time, the probe was less than 50 million miles away from Pluto.
Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and the New Horizons principal investigator stated: “These new images show us that Pluto’s differing faces are each distinct, likely hinting at what may be very complex surface geology or variations in surface composition from place to place.”
It was in mid-April, when the spacecraft was nearly 70 million miles away from Pluto that the probe took and sent images to NASA that included patches of varying levels of brightness. This gave New Horizons scientists the first indication that the surface was complex and varied. The latest images are slightly more detailed and contain twice as many pixels as last month according to NASA reports.
Stern added: “These images also continue to support the hypothesis that Pluto has a polar cap whose extent varies with longitude. We’ll be able to make a definitive determination of the polar bright region’s iciness when we get compositional spectroscopy of that region in July.”
The pictures of Pluto taken by New Horizons will reportedly continue to get better especially on July 14, when the probe flies by only 7,800 miles from the surface of the dwarf planet. NASA representatives note that the “closest-approach images” will be almost 5,000 times sharper than those taken between May 8 and May 12.
Launched in January 2006, New Horizons is currently more than 2.95 billion miles from Earth. It gets almost 750,000 miles closer to Pluto daily.
Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science division, concluded: “As New Horizons closes in on Pluto, it’s transforming from a point of light to a planetary object of intense interest. We’re in for an exciting ride for the next seven weeks.”
New Horizons Under 50 Million Miles From Pluto