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Mountains…On Pluto!

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the best close-ups of Pluto that we are likely to see for decades. Taken on 14 July, the new images are from a sequence taken near the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto. Stored on internal digital recorders, this data was just transmitted back to Earth.

The image shown here is just one segment in a series of images that captured a swath of Pluto that is roughly 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide and 800 kilometers (500 miles) long. New Horizons was about 17,000 kilometers (10,500 miles) from Pluto at the time, and almost 5 billion kilometers (3 billion miles) from Earth. Resolution is around 80 meters (260 ft) per pixel, revealing features about half the size of a city block.

This is the mountainous shoreline bordering Sputnik Planum. The range has been informally named the al-Idrisi mountains, and is likely composed of massive water-ice blocks that have been “jostled and tumbled and somehow transported to their present locations,” according to New Horizons science team member John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

Additional images at the same resolution should be coming in over the next several days. Researchers will be able to look at varied terrain including mountains, crater fields and and glacial plains to learn about Pluto’s geologic history.

To see the entire strip that included this image, go here.
Alternatively, you can view the entire swath as a one-minute here.

-JF

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

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