New Horizons is still 70-million miles (113-million km) from Pluto, but the spacecraft starting to see some surface features on the dwarf planet, including a possible ice cap at its pole.

Earlier this month, New Horizons beamed back the first true-color image of Pluto. Now, the spacecraft’s onboard equipment is beginning to resolve actual surface features — and as expected, they appear to be quite complex.

The bright splotch circled on the image below is causing a lot of excitement among NASA’s New Horizon’s team. It’s too early to tell, but it could be indicative of nitrogen ice on the surface — a Plutonian surface feature proposed as far back as 1994. The image was captured using the telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons.

“As we approach the Pluto system we are starting to see intriguing features such as a bright region near Pluto’s visible pole, starting the great scientific adventure to understand this enigmatic celestial object,” noted John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, in a statement. “As we get closer, the excitement is building in our quest to unravel the mysteries of Pluto using data from New Horizons.”

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Charon is also visible in the image, but in the coming weeks and months, the LORRI camera should start to pick up some of Pluto’s other four moons.

[ NASA ]

Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI