We all knew this day was coming.

After months of enjoying increasingly detailed images of Pluto, we've finally reached the peak: The most detailed images acquired by New Horizons during its July flyby of the distant dwarf planet. As it's unlikely that another Pluto-centric mission will occur anytime soon, we can basically assume that these are the most detailed images many of us will ever see of the alien world.


Pluto’s ‘Badlands’: This highest-resolution image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows how erosion and faulting have sculpted this portion of Pluto’s icy crust into rugged badlands topography. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

That's . . . a lot to process. The Pluto flyby was arguably the scientific highlight of 2015. In a way, it's fitting that these highest resolution images are coming in just as the year is coming to a close.

The new images have resolutions of about 250-280 feet per pixel, which amounts to features the size of half a city block. We've gone from seeing Pluto as a distant, smudgy blur of light to seeing details a few hundred feet in size. What. 

I recommend clicking over to this super-high-resolution mosaic of the new photos and zooming in to see the gritty details. The strip is about 50 miles wide, and covers a huge variety of terrain. We'll see more of the planet in this resolution over the next few days, but then that's it! Forever! Probably. Wow.


Pluto’s rugged, icy cratered plains. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

NASA scientists are still geeking out over these and other images, and they've still got some other data left to download -- so this isn't the last we'll hear about good old Pluto. Planetary scientists still have to analyze all of this information to figure out what kind of world Pluto really is -- and how it got to be that way. While the year of waiting for better and better views of Pluto has come to an end, our exploration of the dwarf planet is still in its infancy.

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