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New Horizons’ LORRI details Pluto’s geology with new images


The latest set of pictures from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has revealed new details about Pluto’s geology, even as it draws closer for its historic flyby. The images also revealed a detailed view of Charon, one of the dwarf planet’s five known moons.1

The images were captured by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 9, and was received at the ground station on July 10. The images reveal new details about Pluto’s geology, including an immense dark band known as the “whale.” The pictures were transmitted from over a distance of 3.3 million miles (5.4 million kilometers) from the planet, and revealed its unique features.

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“We’re close enough now that we’re starting to see Pluto’s geology,” said Curt Niebur, New Horizons program scientist.

Niebur is particularly interested in the  gray area above the “whale” tail feature, said that it’s a unique transition region with a lot of dynamic process interacting, which makes it of particular scientific interest. The image shows the side of Pluto facing its moon, Charon that includes the whale-shaped feature across the equator. (The bright heart-shaped feature had rotated when the image was taken).

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said that the structures identified include polygonal features, a complex band of terrain stretching east-northeast across the planet, It is about 1,000 miles long, and it is the complex region where the bright terrains and dark terrains of the “whale” meet. A day before this new image, LORRI snapped a picture of Pluto and moon Charon. The image revealed that Pluto is covered in an array of high-contrast bright and dark features while Charon has less geological variations with only a dark polar region.

The unmanned New Horizons spacecraft is set to make a flyby of Pluto, after a nine-year, three-billion mile journey. On July 14, it will fly past Pluto at 30,800 kilometers/hour, which will provide a first-ever look at the icy planet.

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