The latest image of Pluto taken by the New Horizons spacecraft may have yielded the dwarf planet’s first prominent surface feature — a dark diagonal stripe that stretches from one side to the other.
New Horizons took these two images 15 seconds apart on June 6 at a distance of 45.8 million kilometers. The images have been embiggened by a factor of four.
(NASA/New Horizons via Unmanned Spaceflight)
Here’s what Bjorn Jonsson of Unmanned Spaceflight has to say about these two photos and the apparent feature (emphasis mine):
The left version is the stack without any processing so it should show correct relative brightness. The right version has been sharpened using RegiStax. The sharpened version reveals a diagonal dark band on Pluto - it’s now absolutely certain that this is a real feature. In contrast, the apparently brighter terrain at the right limb is almost certainly a processing artifact. Charon may be starting to show large scale markings, i.e. possibly very slightly darker terrain in its upper left ‘quadrant’. But this could easily be an image processing artifact. [emphasis added] [...]
It wouldn’t surprise me if small dark spots started appearing within the bright terrain at much higher resolution and/or small bright spots started appearing within the dark terrain.
Over at The Planetary Society, Emily Lakdawalla quips: “Yay! Dark lines criscrossing a disk! It’s the discovery of canali on Pluto! We have reached Schiaparelli-quality mapping of Pluto’s surface!” She’s kidding of course...or is she?