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Latest Pluto Pictures Puzzle & Astound NASA Scientists

New stunning high-resolution images from the edge of our solar system continue to be transmitted from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which is now more than 3 billion miles away from Earth.  The latest images of the dwarf planet Pluto have been released by NASA in a series of press releases between September 17 and September 24. reports that the newly received images are the highest-resolution color pictures ever taken of Pluto.

William McKinnon, New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team deputy lead described Pluto as having a “unique and perplexing landscape stretching over hundreds of miles.”

McKinnon said he was uncertain as to why the landscape appears the way it does — “more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology.” One of the images in particular is being described by NASA as looking like “snakeskin.”  Pluto’s appearance will “really take time to figure out,” McKinnon said.

It looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology. This’ll really take time to figure out; maybe it’s some combination of internal tectonic forces and ice sublimation driven by Pluto’s faint sunlight.

ABC News reports that the download rate of the images from transmitted from New Horizons is abysmally slow; NASA receives only 1 to 4 kilobits of data per second.  At this rate, the pictures taken on July 14 by the spacecraft will take a full year to transmitted home.  This slow rate of speed is to be expected, however, considering how far New Horizons is from Earth.

Aside from the new images, scientists have also observed unusual patterns involving methane ice from maps created by newly transmitted data.  In one region of the planet called Sputnik Planum, large quantities of methane ice were detected, while in other areas such as Cthulhu Regio, none at all could be found.  Scientists haven’t been able to deduce the cause of the discrepancy — yet.

Researchers from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado have been enhancing the colors in the New Horizons photographs in order to make the planet’s surface easier to see.  The technique is often used by astronomers to make difficult to see — or in some cases, impossible to see — celestial bodies more visible to the naked eye.

NASA Cylindrical Projection Map Of Pluto

A “cylindrical projection map” of Pluto, with color enhancement to make ridges and valleys more distinct. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Alan Stern, Principal Investigator for New Horizons, expressed his satisfaction regarding the advances in the study of Pluto because of the new imagery and maps.  “I wish Pluto’s discoverer Clyde Tombaugh had lived to see this day,” he said.


Astronomy buffs can expect to see additional images of Pluto from NASA as more data is received in the upcoming months.

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