Brand new high-resolution images have finally arrived from Pluto. Captured between September 5 and 7, the hefty data download took quite a while to relay to Earth because, well, they just don’t have broadband in space. It’s been two months of patiently waiting since NASA revealed the first ‘sneak peek’ at Pluto and now we have a slew of new images that reveal more of the planet than anyone has ever seen before.
If there’s one thing you should know about the folks who support these NASA missions from the ground, it’s that they have a pretty healthy sense of humor. Hence the headline “it’s complicated,” a sly reference to a popular Facebook relationship status. What does it mean in the context of these new photos, though? Is Pluto ‘vaguebooking’ on us? Well, no. But the new photos of Pluto reveal an amazingly diverse surface that, according to the NASA release, have scientists “reeling because of their range and complexity.”
“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. “If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”
The new photos of Pluto are actually evidence some of the previously held beliefs about the dwarf planet aren’t correct. It was previously thought Pluto was more or less frozen, with a landscape that was basically set. However, the photos released in July showed what scientists thought might be dunes, which suggest something entirely different. The new photos reveal even better views of the curious surface features, leading to the new conclusion that Pluto’s landscape must still be evolving.
“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.”
Due to the insanely slow data transfer speed, it will take NASA nearly a year to download all of the data and images collected from the dwarf planet, so more releases are likely as interesting new information is discovered. Follow the New Horizons mission website for updates, where you can learn more than you ever knew there was to know about Pluto.
Images via NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute