NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has just flown by Pluto, making its closest approach at about 7,800 miles from the dwarf planet on schedule at 7:49 a.m. Eastern Time this morning. But about an hour before that, NASA released what it says is a “sneak peak” of the awesome close-ups of Pluto that are yet to come (it takes 4.5 hours for signals to travel between New Horizons and Earth due to the incredible 3 billion-plus mile distance).
Check out this image of Pluto as you’ve never seen it before: reddish, its surface textured with craters and other geologic features, and the dark shapes at its south pole clearly visible. The image was captured at 4 p.m. last night, when New Horizons was still about 476,000 miles away from Pluto’s surface. The resolution is equivalent to 2.5 miles (4 km) per pixel.
According to New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, the image could also reveal tectonic activity on the dwarf planet at some point during its past, or even continuing on in the present. But the real revelations are still to come later today and in the coming days, when New Horizons begins returning a wealth of data captured from even closer to Pluto during the flyby.
Updated shortly after publication to add additional reporting by Sarah Fecht.