NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has traveled 20 million miles (32 million kilometers) since it last beamed back images of Pluto. The latest set of photos hint at a complicated and high-contrast surface — including more evidence in support of the theory that the dwarf planet features a bright polar cap.
These images were taken at a distance of just under 50 million miles (77 million kilometers) from Pluto, which is about 20 million miles closer from where it was in early April. The new photos contain twice the resolution as the previous set.
“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,” noted New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern in a NASA statement.
“These images also continue to support the hypothesis that Pluto has a polar cap whose extent varies with longitude; we’ll be able to make a definitive determination of the polar bright region’s iciness when we get compositional spectroscopy of that region in July,” he says.
From this point onward, images from New Horizon’s LORRI camera are expected to get dramatically better.
“By late June, the image resolution will be four times better than the images made May 8-12, and by the time of closest approach [on July 14th], we expect to obtain images with more than 5,000 times the current resolution,” added Hal Weaver, the mission’s project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
5,000 times better! Sweeeeet.
Images: NASA/New Horizons.