The most stunning and close-up images of Pluto’s surface have been beamed back to Earth by NASA’s New Horizons space probe.
“This is the most detailed view of Pluto’s terrain you will see for a very long time,” NASA said.
The mosaic – extending across the hemisphere that faced the New Horizons spacecraft as it flew past Pluto on July 14, last year – includes all of the highest-resolution images taken by the NASA probe.
With a resolution of about 80 meters per pixel, the mosaic affords scientists and the public the best opportunity to examine the fine details of the various types of terrain on Pluto, and determine the processes that formed and shaped them.
“This new image product is just magnetic,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Colorado.
“It makes me want to go back on another mission to Pluto and get high-resolution images like these across the entire surface,” said Stern.
The view in the mosaic extends from the “limb” of Pluto almost to the “terminator” or day/night line in the southeast of the encounter hemisphere.
The width of the strip ranges from more than 90 kilometres at its northern end to about 75 kilometres at its southern point, NASA said.
NASA has also released a video which moves down the mosaic from top to bottom, offering new views of many of Pluto’s distinct landscapes along the way.
Starting with hummocky, cratered uplands, the view crosses over parallel ridges of “washboard” terrain, chaotic and angular mountain ranges, cellular plains, coarsely “pitted” areas of sublimating nitrogen ice, zones of thin nitrogen ice draped over the topography, and dark mountainous highlands scarred by deep pits.
The images in the mosaic were obtained by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) about 15,850 kilometres from Pluto, about 23 minutes before the probe’s closest approach.