The Solar System’s Red-Headed Stepchild
Back in January 2006, NASA launched New Horizons, a space probe destined for an encounter with the on-again/off-again planet called Pluto. This year the probe finally reached Pluto and, after a six-month flyby, sent back some truly stunning images. The details and quality are unlike anything we’ve seen before and have provided us with a truly unparalleled new view of Pluto. While New Horizons is on track for a mission to the Kuiper Belt (ETA: January 2019), we are free to marvel at never-before-seen images of the dwarf planet.
Mosaic of Pluto showing it off in true color. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
This image was taken from a distance of 50,000 miles and shows terrain with an expanse of 1,100 miles. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Images of Pluto’s dark side show off the haze layers surrounding the dwarf planet. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
This massive ice plain is informally known as Sputnik Planum. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
A different view of Sputnik Planum. Scientists believe the bright white upland region on the right might be covered in nitrogen ice. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Pluto’s icy mountains. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Top-down view of Pluto’s mountains. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
The dwarf planet’s icy plain has been affectionately nicknamed Pluto’s Heart. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
A look at Pluto in false color. Scientists use this technique to spot differences in the texture and composition of the object. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
This image shows off Pluto’s geographical diversity. We have old craters, young smooth terrain, mountains and dark ridges that could be dunes, all within a 220-mile wide image. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Close-up look at Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. Photo: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Just to put things in perspective, here is the image we had of Pluto 10 years ago. Photo: NASA, ESA, M. Buie.