New Pluto Images Show Possible Dunes, Crepuscular Rays, Unimaginable Complexity
This new mosaic of Pluto is from the latest high-resolution images sent to Earth from the New Horizons spacecraft shows what you would see if you were approximately 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) above Pluto’s equatorial area, looking northeast over the dark, cratered, informally named Cthulhu Regio toward the bright, smooth, expanse of icy plains informally called Sputnik Planum. The entire expanse of terrain seen in this image is 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) across. The images were taken as New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers). Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
New Horizons scientists say they are “reeling” from the new images sent back from the spacecraft which were released today. The new data set shows an amazing range of complex features on Pluto’s surface and in its atmosphere.
New images show there might even be a field of dark wind-blown dunes, among other possibilities.
“Seeing dunes on Pluto — if that is what they are — would be completely wild, because Pluto’s atmosphere today is so thin,” said William B. McKinnon, a GGI deputy lead from Washington University, St. Louis. “Either Pluto had a thicker atmosphere in the past, or some process we haven’t figured out is at work. It’s a head-scratcher.”
Plus, a new view of Pluto’s hazy backlit atmosphere shows what are likely crepuscular rays — shadows cast on the haze by topography such as mountain ranges on Pluto, similar to the rays sometimes seen in the sky after the sun sets behind mountains on Earth.
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