The dwarf planet may look like it has nothing in common with Earth, but new images from NASA show Pluto has blue skies and patches of icy water.
In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus Dorsa, rise up along Pluto’s day-night terminator and show intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between.
A high-resolution color-enhanced image of Pluto.
High-resolution images of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just before closest approach on July 14, 2015, are the sharpest images to date of Pluto’s varied terrain—revealing details down to scales of 270 meters. In this 75-mile section of the taken from the larger, high-resolution mosaic above, the textured surface of the plain surrounds two isolated ice mountains.
In the center of this 300-mile (470-kilometer) wide image of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is a large region of jumbled, broken terrain on the northwestern edge of the vast, icy plain informally called Sputnik Planum, to the right. The smallest visible features are 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) in size. This image was taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers).
Charon, which is 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) in diameter, displays a surprisingly complex geological history, including tectonic fracturing; relatively smooth, fractured plains in the lower right; several enigmatic mountains surrounded by sunken terrain features on the right side; and heavily cratered regions in the center and upper left portion of the disk. There are also complex reflectivity patterns on Charon’s surface, including bright and dark crater rays, and the conspicuous dark north polar region at the top of the image. The smallest visible features are 2.9 miles 4.6 kilometers) in size.
Two different versions of an image of Pluto’s haze layers, taken by New Horizons as it looked back at Pluto's dark side nearly 16 hours after close approach, from a distance of 480,000 miles (770,000 kilometers), at a phase angle of 166 degrees. Pluto's north is at the top, and the sun illuminates Pluto from the upper right.
This 220-mile (350-kilometer) wide view of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet. The image includes dark, ancient heavily cratered terrain; bright, smooth geologically young terrain; assembled masses of mountains; and an enigmatic field of dark, aligned ridges that resemble dunes; its origin is under debate. The smallest visible features are 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) in size. This image was taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers).
This synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-resolution images to be downlinked from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) above Pluto’s equatorial area, looking northeast over the dark, cratered, informally named Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth, expanse of icy plains informally called Sputnik Planum.
Mosaic of high-resolution images of Pluto, sent back from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft from Sept. 5 to 7, 2015. The image is dominated by the informally-named icy plain Sputnik Planum, the smooth, bright region across the center. This image also features a tremendous variety of other landscapes surrounding Sputnik. The smallest visible features are 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) in size, and the mosaic covers a region roughly 1,000 miles (1600 kilometers) wide. The image was taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers).
This image of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, processed in two different ways, shows how Pluto’s bright, high-altitude atmospheric haze produces a twilight that softly illuminates the surface before sunrise and after sunset, allowing the sensitive cameras on New Horizons to see details in nighttime regions that would otherwise be invisible. The right-hand version of the image has been greatly brightened to bring out faint details of rugged haze-lit topography beyond Pluto’s terminator, which is the line separating day and night. The image was taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers).
Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this sharper global view of Pluto.
Pluto sends a breathtaking farewell to New Horizons. Backlit by the sun, Pluto’s atmosphere rings its silhouette like a luminous halo in this image taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft around midnight EDT on July 15. This global portrait of the atmosphere was captured when the spacecraft was about 1.25 million miles (2 million kilometers) from Pluto and shows structures as small as 12 miles across. The image, delivered to Earth on July 23, is displayed with north at the top of the frame.
Backlit by the sun, Pluto’s atmosphere rings its silhouette in this image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. Hydrocarbon hazes in the atmosphere, extending as high as 80 miles (130 kilometers) above the surface, are seen for the first time in this image, which was taken on July 14.
New Horizons scientists use enhanced color images to detect differences in the composition and texture of Pluto’s surface. When close-up images are combined with color data from the Ralph instrument, it paints a new and surprising portrait of the dwarf planet. The “heart of the heart,” Sputnik Planum, is suggestive of a source region of ices. The two bluish-white “lobes” that extend to the southwest and northeast of the “heart” may represent exotic ices being transported away from Sputnik Planum.
Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this enhanced color global view. The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers).
Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Pluto’s icy mountains have company. NASA’s New Horizons mission has discovered a new, apparently less lofty mountain range on the lower-left edge of Pluto’s best known feature.
In the center left of Pluto’s vast heart-shaped feature – informally named “Tombaugh Regio” - lies a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains and has been informally named Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain), after Earth’s first artificial satellite. The surface appears to be divided into irregularly-shaped segments that are ringed by narrow troughs.
Peering closely at the “heart of Pluto,” in the western half of what mission scientists have informally named Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), New Horizons’ Ralph instrument revealed evidence of carbon monoxide ice. The contours indicate that the concentration of frozen carbon monoxide increases towards the center of the “bull’s eye.” These data were acquired by the spacecraft on July 14 and transmitted to Earth on July 16.
The latest two full-frame images of Pluto and Charon were collected separately by New Horizons during approach on July 13 and July 14, 2015. The relative reflectivity, size, separation, and orientations of Pluto and Charon are approximated in this composite image, and they are shown in approximate true color.
Homing in on Pluto's small satellite Nix, New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager captured this image, which shows features as small as 4 miles (6 kilometers across). Mission scientists believe we are looking at one end of an elongated body about 25 miles (40 kilometers) in diameter. The image was acquired on July 13 from a distance of about 360,000 miles (590,000 kilometers).
Pluto's largest moon Charon has a captivating feature -- a depression with a peak in the middle, shown here in the upper left corner of the inset. The image shows an area approximately 240 miles (390 kilometers) from top to bottom, including few visible craters. The image was taken at approximately 6:30 a.m. EDT on July 14, 2015, about 1.5 hours before closest approach to Pluto, from a range of 49,000 miles (79,000 kilometers).
New close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI)
Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).
The latest spectra from New Horizons Ralph instrument reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences from place to place across the frozen surface of Pluto.
This July 13, 2015, image of Pluto and Charon is presented in false colors to make differences in surface material and features easy to see. It was obtained by the Ralph instrument on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, using three filters to obtain color information, which is exaggerated in the image. These are not the actual colors of Pluto and Charon, and the apparent distance between the two bodies has been reduced for this side-by-side view.
Artist's concept of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in July 2015.
Pluto (R) and moon Charon, July 11, 2015
DATE TAKEN: na--- Illustration by Ron Miller, from "The Grand Tour." The moon Charon shines on the methane ice surface of Pluto in this artist's conception of what it would be like to stand on the solar system's tiniest planet. The bright star in the lower left sky is the Sun, 1,600 times fainter than when seen from Earth. ORG XMIT: UT14264
FILE - This file image provided by NASA on Feb. 22, 2006 from it's Hubble Space Telescope shows Pluto and three of it's five moons. An online vote to name Pluto's two newest, itty-bitty moon concluded Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, and the winner is Vulcan, a name suggested by actor William Shatner, who played Capt. Kirk in the original "Star Trek" TV series. (AP Photo/NASA, File) ORG XMIT: NY116
Pluto horizon spans the foreground in this artist's vision, gazing sunward across that distant and not yet explored world. Titled New Horizons, the painting also depicts Pluto's companion, Charon, as a darkened, ghostly apparition with a luminous crescent against a starry background. Beyond Charon, the diminished Sun is immersed in a flattened cloud of zodiacal dust. Here, Pluto's ruddy colors are based on existing astronomical observations while imagined but scientifically tenable details provided by the artist include high atmospheric cirrus and dark plumes from surface vents, in analogy to Neptune's large moon Triton explored by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1989. Craters suggest bombardment by Kuiper Belt objects, a newly understood population of outer solar system bodies likely related to the Pluto-Charon system. NASA is now considering a future robotic reconnaissance mission to Pluto-Charon and the Kuiper Belt which could reach the distant worlds late in the next decade. [Via MerlinFTP Drop]
An artist's conception of Pluto and its moon Charon (bottom right). (18K) Image: NASA (taken from Nasa's Observatorium image Gallery) *please note in cutline this is not an actual photo!
The artist's concept above shows the Pluto system from the surface of one of the candidate moons. The other members of the Pluto system are just above the moon's surface. Pluto is the large disk at center, right. Charon, the system's only confirmed moon, is the smaller disk to the right of Pluto. The other candidate moon is the bright dot on Pluto's far left. Click image for full resolution. Image credit: NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI) [Via MerlinFTP Drop]
This image obtained from NASA on February 4, 2010, shows the newest images of Pluto taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Pluto, the dwarf planet on the outer edge of our solar system, has a dramatically ruddier hue than it did just a few years ago, NASA scientists said Thursday, after examining the photos. They said the distant orb appears mottled and molasses-colored in recent pictures, with a markedly redder tone that most likely is the result of surface ice melting on Pluto's sunlit pole and then refreezing on the other pole. AFP/NASA = RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE = NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN = (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
These images, released by NASA Thursday, March 6, 1996, show the never-before-seen surface of the planet Pluto as seen fron the Hubble Space Telescope's Faint Object Camera. The two smaller inset pictures at top are the actual Hubble images. Opposite hemispheres of Pluto are seen in the bottom images, which are from a global map constructed through computer image processing of the Hubble data. The picture was taken when Pluto was 3 billion miles from Earth. (NASA) ORG XMIT: WX6