A NASA spacecraft is closing in on Pluto, and sending back pictures that have scientists excited. Between May 8 and May 12, the New Horizon probe took photographs of Pluto using its Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) from nearly 50 million miles away.
These new images have twice the pixilation as the one taken in April, showing more precise details of Pluto’s surface, including both dark and bright surface markings, as well as an area that may be a polar cap.
NASA Director of Planetary Science, Jim Green, said in a press release, “As New Horizons close in on Pluto, it’s transforming from a point of light to a planetary object of intense interest,” adding, “We’re in for an exciting ride for the next seven weeks.” New Horizon is expected to arrive at Pluto on July 14, traveling roughly 750,000 miles per day until then.
The pictures New Horizon takes between now and then are expected to get even better. Mission project scientist Hal Weaver explained that by the end of June, the resolution of the images will be four times better than the images collected from May 8-12. Moreover, when New Horizon makes its final approach on Pluto, the images should be more than 5,000 times better than the current resolution.
Of course, the pictures already taken of Pluto have been quite telling. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado said, “These new images show us that Pluto’s differing faces are each distinct, likely hinting at what may be very complex surface geology or variations in surface composition from place to place”. Stern added that by July scientists will have more definitive information regarding the iciness of Pluto’s bright region.
These new images of Pluto are the best scientist have ever seen of the planet’s surface, and in the weeks to come, the pictures will only get better, giving scientists more clues about our solar system’s most distant “planet.”