In July, NASA's New Horizons mission gave us our first real look at Pluto. Those pictures were amazing -- but they've just been outdone.
This week, the team entered the phase of data downlinking that includes higher-quality images. In July, a few images were sent down immediately, followed by several weeks of other data. In this phase, we'll see images that are "lossless" -- they haven't been compressed, so we won't get any weird pixelation or fuzziness.
— Alex Parker (@Alex_Parker) September 10, 2015
“This is what we came for – these images, spectra and other data types that are going to help us understand the origin and the evolution of the Pluto system for the first time,” New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern said in a statement. “And what’s coming is not just the remaining 95 percent of the data that’s still aboard the spacecraft – it’s the best datasets, the highest-resolution images and spectra, the most important atmospheric datasets, and more. It’s a treasure trove.”
The images of Pluto show amazing diversity in the dwarf planet's geology:
“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” Stern said in a statement. “If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”
Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team, added that the surface was "every bit as complex as that of Mars," with jumbled mountains, nitrogen ice flows, and possible dunes.
Pluto's largest moon Charon makes an appearance, too:
Look at these worlds! These are some great worlds.
And here are new images of the haze around Pluto:
I hope this is just a taste of the treasure trove of magnificent images that are yet to come. And as those images are combined with other sources of data, NASA scientists will begin to unravel some of Pluto's mysteries.