As NASA continues to extensively downlink data from New Horizons, it has published an absolutely stunning full view of Pluto’s crescent captured just minutes after the spacecraft’s closest flyby.
The image has a history of awesomeness when an incomplete image of the crescent was released in September. The image gave a feeling as if you were right there on New Horizons looking at the mesmerising view. “This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself,” Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator, had said at the time.
The image isn’t just about Pluto’s beauty, it carries a lot of scientific importance as well. It gives us a glimpse of what Pluto’s atmosphere is like along with information about its mountains, glaciers as well as plains.
New Horizons captured the image some 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14 using its wide-angle Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). New Horizons was looking back towards the Sun and this gave it the opportunity to click the near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon.
The image provides detailed view of more than a dozen thin layers of haze throughout Pluto’s tenuous but extended nitrogen atmosphere extending from near the ground to at least 60 miles (100 kilometers) above the surface. In addition, the image reveals at least one bank of fog-like, low-lying haze illuminated by the setting sun against Pluto’s dark side, raked by shadows from nearby mountains.
The shadow of Pluto cast on its atmospheric hazes can also be seen at the uppermost part of the disk. On the sunlit side of Pluto (right), the smooth expanse of the informally named icy plain Sputnik Planum is flanked to the west (above, in this orientation) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. Below (east) of Sputnik, rougher terrain is cut by apparent glaciers.
“In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth,” said Will Grundy, lead of the New Horizons Composition team from Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona.