Earlier today NASA released this stunning new panorama showing Pluto’s terrain backlit by the Sun. Pluto has frozen plains surrounded by majestic mountains, as seen in incredible detail. Also visible is Pluto’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere, and boy is it hazy. Previous data from New Horizons’ LORRI instrument revealed Pluto’s hazy atmosphere but the latest images show it to have as many as 12 different layers of haze extending up 100 kilometers (60 miles). We also see at least one low-lying fog bank indicating that Pluto could have daily weather just like we see on Earth.
“We did not expect to find hints of a nitrogen-based glacial cycle on Pluto operating in the frigid conditions of the outer solar system,” said Alan Howard, a member of the mission’s Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “Driven by dim sunlight, this would be directly comparable to the hydrological cycle that feeds ice caps on Earth, where water is evaporated from the oceans, falls as snow, and returns to the seas through glacial flow.”
Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator said, “This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself. But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains. “Pluto is surprisingly Earth-like in regard to its hydrological cycle,” added Stern, “and no one predicted it.”
Stay tuned as New Horizons continues to shock and awe with new data and images of Pluto and its five moons over the next 12 months.
Image & Source Credit: NASA