NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft continues to amaze with a handful of new photos that provide us with an incredibly detailed look at Pluto’s “snakeskin” surface. The spacecraft made its closest approach to the dwarf planet all the way back on July 14, but it’s still slowly sending back heaps of information, and will continue to do so over the next several months. Take your time, New Horizons, especially if you have nice gifts like this.
In one of the new images, we get an up close look at what NASA says are rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, dubbed the Tartarus Dorsa. Covering 330 miles across, the image combined blue, red and infrared images taken by New Horizons’ Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) to show what NASA says is a puzzling pattern of blue-grey ridges, with reddish material in between.
“It’s a unique and perplexing landscape stretching over hundreds of miles,” said William McKinnon, New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team deputy lead. “It looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology. This will really take time to figure out; maybe it’s some combination of internal tectonic forces and ice sublimation drive by Pluto’s faint sunlight.”
NASA released a few other images meant to accentuate and enhance the planet’s diverse color palette of pale blues, yellows, oranges and deep reds. Many of the colors reveal distinct landforms, painting a complex geological and climatological picture—something scientists are still trying to decode.
New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORR) also produced a notable image, which reveals a landscape that reveals dunes, a shoreline of a shrinking glacial lake, and angular water ice mountains with sheer cliffs. These images come in addition to a handful of other breathtaking pictures sent back by New Horizons, including a panorama that showed mountains, icy plains, and layers of haze. (None of these images best the beautiful silhouette NASA revealed at the end of July, which you can see in the gallery below.)
In addition to the sheer beauty of these images, New Horizons also provided NASA with compositional information from a map of methane ice across part of Pluto’s surface. What’s odd is that Sputnik Planum, the icy plain in the panorama photo, is abundant in methane, while its neighboring region, Cthulhu Regio, shows none. Scientists aren’t quite sure why methane favors one region over another, but you can bet the glorious New Horizons will provide answers soon enough.
For now, check out the images and bask in Pluto’s beauty.