Above, you can see the best-ever images of Pluto, our solar system's most distant (dwarf) planet. The animation is made up of images taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft between April 12 and 18 from a distance of 69 to 64 million miles from Pluto. They capture one complete rotation of Pluto and its moon Charon, which lock eyes and spin around a center point.
The images have already surpassed the Hubble's resolution, but there are plenty of features too subtle for the spacecraft to pick up. In fact, the images don't even show all of Pluto's known moons yet -- let alone any smaller ones we've yet to discover with the Hubble.
But NASA representatives say the photos are just teases of what's to come. In fact, NASA is now going to share New Horizon's new images (raw and unenhanced) online with a delay of just a couple of days. In mid-May we'll get a glut of new photos, and on May 28 the probe will start sending back daily photos, approaching an eventual resolution so good that comparable pictures of the Earth would show features as tiny as Central Park. The probe will make its closest pass of the planet on July 14.
"This is just an appetite whetter," New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern said at a news conference on Wednesday. "We’re over 98 percent of the way through the journey, and we’re very excited to be on Pluto’s doorstep."
But even though the images are blurry, Stern said, he and his colleagues are already using them to learn more about Pluto than we've ever known before. They're especially excited by a bright spot that appears all throughout the images, right at Pluto's polar region.
While they can't be sure yet, they think it could be an ice cap.
We'll have to wait and see. But whether the bright and dark regions are caused by geography, composition, or something else entirely, NASA scientists will be able to tell very, very soon.
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