New Horizons spots features on Pluto's surface, including potential ice cap

The images were captured from distances of less than 70 million miles and show a full rotation of Pluto and Charon.
By Andrew McDonald | Apr 29, 2015
According to a statement from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, NASA's New Horizons probe has sent back fresh images of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. New Horizons acquired the images with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager in early to mid-April after it was within 70 million miles of Pluto. Pluto is shown to have a variegated surface of dark and light areas.

"As we approach the Pluto system we are starting to see intriguing features such as a bright region near Pluto's visible pole, starting the great scientific adventure to understand this enigmatic celestial object," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "As we get closer, the excitement is building in our questto unravel the mysteries of Pluto using data from New Horizons."

The images obtained by New Horizons have been used to assemble two 'movies', showing Pluto rotating and Charon revolving around it. These movies were pieced together using 13 different images taken over 6.5 days from April 12 to April 18, during which New Horizons closed the distance to Pluto from around 69 million miles to 64 million miles.

The new images reveal some intriguing bright areas on Pluto's surface. The most striking is at Pluto's polar region, and might represent a frozen cap of molecular nitrogen ice.

The new images were captured with an exposure time of a tenth of a second, too brief to spot the other four, much smaller moons of Pluto. In July, New Horizons will arrive at Pluto after a nine-year sojourn and approach to about 7,800 from Pluto's surface.

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