Behold Pluto In All Its Majesty

New images zero in on the former planet's diverse surface

With its passage through the Pluto system safely navigated, New Horizons can now focus on sending images and data back to Earth. The spacecraft began an intensive data downlink on September 5, but even with its efforts focused on sending back data, it’s going to take about a year for all the information to cross the 3 billion miles to Earth. Still, the images so far have been breathtaking, and this newest batch shows they just keep getting better and better.

“The surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars,” said New Horizons geologist Jeff Moore. This view (from about 1,100 miles above Pluto’s equator) shows a dark, heavily cratered region near the equator as well as the smoother, younger plains to the north. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Streaks on the icy plain Sputnik Planum may have been carved out by nitrogen glaciers. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
This chaotic region to the west of Sputnik Planum looks like it belongs on Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. “The randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of hard water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen,” says Jeff Moore. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Pluto’s diverse surface includes plains, mountains, and dark ridges that may be dunes. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
After flying past Pluto on July 14, New Horizons turned around and captured this view of Pluto eclipsing the sun. The version on the left has been minimally processed, while the image on the right has been processed to reveal the different layers Pluto’s atmosphere. NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI