New Horizons is still transmitting data from the Pluto encounter (and will be doing so for many more months). NASA has just released an image strip that is the most detailed yet. This snippet shows the highest resolution portion of the strip, showing the weird bumpy texture, almost like a mogul field, of the cellular nitrogen ice plains in Sputnik Planum:
Here’s a video (with no audio) panning down the entire strip, with annotation:
You can download the full strip at maximum resolution here, at the Planetary Photojournal.
The mission team said it would be like Christmas every day for the next 16 months as they keep getting more stuff down from the probe. They’re weren’t kidding. Check this out. The mountains we saw in the last close-up image of Pluto have been named Norgay Montes (after the Sherpa guide who, with Edmund Hillary, was first to the top of Mount Everest), and the adjacent smooth area in Tombaugh Regio (the “heart”) has been dubbed Sputnik Planum. There’s no name yet for this bit, which just came out today, a set of mountains about as high as the Rockies and which are very different from Norgay Montes. This is also a significantly older terrain, with some impact craters visible. Interestingly, the white material is clearly filling in the dark cratered terrain — sort of the inverse of the dark Cassini Regio on Iapetus.
And it’s not just Pluto itself we’re getting to see! They’ve got the first half-decent images of Nix and Hydra now!
Mission scientist Carley Howell is very excited about the curious red region on Nix. In the press release for this image, she was quoted “This observation is so tantalizing, I’m finding it hard to be patient for more Nix data to be downlinked.” We’re right there with you, ma’am! Patience is hard, but it will be rewarded. 😉
Man, this really is like Christmas in July with all the stuff New Horizons is sending back! The heart on Pluto is a very dramatic albedo feature (that is, a formation seen only from the patterns of light and dark), and as such, it’s got a name. Most of Pluto’s things are named for gods of the underworld and so forth, but they made an excellent exception for this. Just as the dark hemisphere of Iapetus is named for the moon’s discoverer, Cassini Regio, this is named for Pluto’s discoverer: Tombaugh Regio.
Like all the up-close images so far, this has only come down in very highly compressed low res form; the full, uncompressed version will be coming later. But it’s already a feast for the eyes. Check it out:
Tombaugh Regio is an incredibly vast plain almost completely devoid of craters, and thus presumed to be less than 100 million years old. It may even be active today for all we know right now. This picture certainly would fit with geologic activity, though heck if I know what process can make this. It’s beautiful.