NASA Releases Stunningly Detailed Images of Pluto's Surface


This past July, the New Horizons spacecraft whizzed by Pluto, taking photos, videos, and measurements of the faraway dwarf planet. Now, NASA has released several images detailing Pluto’s icy terrain that are astoundingly clear—and, as continues to be the case with Pluto, deeply intriguing.

With resolutions of about 250–280 feet per pixel, the shots reveal peaks, plains, and craters, highlighting geographic features that NASA says "would be smaller than half a city block” on Pluto’s surface. NASA also shared a video of the faraway planet, which pans a 50-mile swath of its rugged surface.

“These new images give us a breathtaking, super-high resolution window into Pluto’s geology,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator of New Horizons, in a statement. “Nothing of this quality was available for Venus or Mars until decades after their first flybys; yet at Pluto we’re there already—down among the craters, ice fields and mountains—less than five months after flyby! The science we can do with these images is simply unbelievable.”

The photos are the first of a series that NASA will receive in the coming days—meaning if you’re a space buff, you should keep your eyes peeled for more shots to come. Until then, here are the latest pictures and video footage.

Pluto’s rugged, icy cratered plains include layering in the interior walls of many craters. Layers in geology usually mean an important change in composition or event, but at the moment New Horizons team members do not know if they are seeing local, regional, or global layering.

Erosion and faulting has sculpted portions of Pluto’s icy crust into rugged badlands. The prominent 1.2-mile-high cliff at the top, running from left to upper right, is part of a great canyon system that stretches for hundreds of miles across Pluto’s northern hemisphere.

Great blocks of Pluto’s water-ice crust appear jammed together in the informally named al-Idrisi mountains. Some mountain sides appear coated in dark material, while other sides are bright.

All images courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute.