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Closest Pluto images ever returned

New images from New Horizons’ July flyby of Pluto are among the sharpest of another world, other than those closely orbited or landed upon.

View larger. | NASA calls this image 'the mountainous shoreline of Sputnik Planum.' It's not a shoreline as on Earth, of course; it's a place where two kinds of ice meet. The mountainous region - informally named al-Idrisi mountains - is made of great blocks of Pluto’s water-ice crust. Some stand as much as 1.5 miles high. The mountains end abruptly at the shoreline of the informally named Sputnik Planum, where the soft, nitrogen-rich ices of the plain form a nearly level surface.

View larger. | NASA calls this image ‘the mountainous shoreline of Sputnik Planum.’ It’s not a shoreline as on Earth, of course; it’s a place where two kinds of ice meet. The mountainous region – informally named al-Idrisi mountains – is made of great blocks of Pluto’s water-ice crust. The mountains end abruptly at the shoreline of the informally named Sputnik Planum, where the soft, nitrogen-rich ices of the plain form a nearly level surface. Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI. Read more about this image.

Here are some new images just released on Friday (December 4, 2015). They are the closest ever of Pluto … likely to be the closest we will ever see during our lifetimes. The New Horizons team finally had these some of these downloaded. Apparently, there are a few more still awaiting transmission from New Horizons. The higher priority general views were downlinked first then the sharper views of both Pluto and Charon followed. Having said that, these are, of course, also of immense scientific importance.

I have brightened and contrast enhanced a few of the images below.

These images have been rotated so north is top. The face on images have an astonishing resolution of 77 meters (84 yards) and those towards the limb are not at all shabby at a remarkable of 88 meters (96 yards). These are among the sharpest images of another planetary body other than those closely orbited or landed upon.

We need to remind ourselves of what we are looking at here. This is Pluto!

The area inside the rectangle is that viewed in these closest-yet images, returned from New Horizons.

The area inside the rectangle is that viewed in these closest-yet images, returned from New Horizons. Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI. Read more about this image.

More hummocky, hilly terrain on Pluto.

NASA calls this Pluto’s badlands. The cliff at the upper left is 1.2 miles (nearly 2 km) high. Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI. Read more about this image.

Layered craters in Pluto's icy crust.

Layered craters and icy plains. Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI. Read more about this image.

This image and the following two show bits of Sputnik Planum, and its soft, nitrogen-rich ices.

This image and the following two show bits of Sputnik Planum, and its soft, nitrogen-rich ices. Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

Sputnik Planum

Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

Sputnik Planum

Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

The limb, or edge of Pluto.

The limb, or edge of Pluto. Imaged by New Horizons July 14, 2015, using the LORRI (LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager) camera. Credit: NASA / JHU-APL / SWRI.

By the way, the average surface temperature of Pluto is minus 367 Fahrenheit (minus 232 Celsius). If our own Earth cooled to the same temperature, our oceans would freeze almost all the way down and our atmosphere would collapse and freeze into a layer of frozen gases 35 feet thick (11 meters) thick.

Pluto is 1,473 miles (2,370 km) wide. That’s in contrast to Earth’s diameter of nearly 8,000 miles (nearly 13,000 km).

Bottom line: The New Horizons swept past Pluto on July 14, 2015. It may be the only Pluto flyby in our lifetimes. Images are still being returned. The ones on this page – released December 4, 2015 – are among the sharpest of another planetary body, other than those closely orbited or landed upon.

Andrew R. Brown

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