NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has beamed back the most detailed image yet of Pluto, showing a large heart-shaped bright area measuring some 2,000 kilometres across the dwarf planet’s surface.
After more than a nine-year, three-billion-mile journey to Pluto, it is show time for the spacecraft, as the flyby sequence of science observations is officially underway, NASA said.
Yesterday, mission scientists received the most detailed image yet returned by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard New Horizons.
The image was taken on July 7, when the spacecraft was just under 8 million kilometres from Pluto, and is the first to be received since the July 4 anomaly that sent the spacecraft into safe mode.
The view is centred roughly on the area that will be seen close-up during New Horizons’ July 14 closest approach. This side of Pluto is dominated by three broad regions of varying brightness.
Most prominent is an elongated dark feature at the equator, informally known as “the whale,” and a large heart-shaped bright area measuring some 2,000 kilometres across on the right.
Above those features in the image is a polar region that is intermediate in brightness. “The next time we see this part of Pluto at closest approach, a portion of this region will be imaged at about 500 times better resolution than we see today,” said Jeff Moore, Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team Leader of NASA’s Ames Research Centre.
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