Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto in July, NASA’s New Horizons captured what is now the most beautiful image of the dwarf planet. And that’s saying a lot, because the courageous spacecraft has also sent back some truly spectacular pictures—my favorite is this silhouette after New Horizons successfully made its historic flyby.
Up until now, we had no real idea what Pluto looked like; everything we’ve seen until New Horizons came along were just simple concepts based on what we thought we knew. This latest image is not only incredible for its proximity to the mysterious planet, but also because of its detail. There are mountains and plains and foggy hazes. It almost looks like a place you’d want to visit.
“This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern.
Stern added that the image is not only spectacular for its beauty, but because it provides scientists with a wealth of information, revealing details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains.
In the main panorama picture above, shot with the sun at Pluto’s back, there are two areas of interest. On the right is an icy plain, dubbed Sputnik Planum, which is flanked to the west by mountains up to 11,000 feet high. NASA says there are also some glaciers east of Sputnik, while the sun’s lights helps to highlight over a dozen layers of haze. The panorama shows about 780 miles of Pluto—about the size of Texas.
“In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth,” said New Horizons Composition team member Will Grundy.
New Horizons has sent back a wealth of information since flying by Pluto this past summer, and will continue to do so over the next several months. If it continues to send images like this, there might no longer be any mysterious about Pluto left.