Tags

, ,

Prepare your jaws, folks.

image

Whooaahhh! That’s the latest Pluto image to be released from the New Horizons team. While almost every other photo you’ve seen comes from the one-megapixel LORRI imager, this is from the N-megapixel “Ralph” camera. That’s right, this one doesn’t have a fixed megapixel count: it works by rotating the entire spacecraft to sweep a 5,000 by 32 pixel detector across the scene. It’s much trickier to operate, but lends itself to massive panoramas like this one. The full technical details are at Emily Lakdewalla’s blog, including info from the New Horizons team (see “Kim” in the comment section) and in my opinion are nearly as cool as the image.

That’s saying something, because MOUNTAINS.

image

LOVELY, BEAUTIFUL, GORGEOUS MOUNTAINS. Did I mention everything has massive resolution? Click and feast your eyes for a bit on both images, because there’s a lot to take in. The caption reads

The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across.

Complex atmosphere with fog, mountains of (probable) water ice, possible glaciers of nitrogen ice… that’s right, glaciers.

this new image also provides evidence for a remarkably Earth-like “hydrological” cycle on Pluto – but involving soft and exotic ices, including nitrogen, rather than water ice.

Bright areas east of the vast icy plain informally named Sputnik Planum appear to have been blanketed by these ices, which may have evaporated from the surface of Sputnik and then been redeposited to the east. The new Ralph imager panorama also reveals glaciers flowing back into Sputnik Planum from this blanketed region; these features are similar to the frozen streams on the margins of ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica.

And much more is yet to come; unlike the LORRI images, New Horizons won’t be releasing more Ralph images for several more months. Presumably, this one was just too pretty to keep under wraps.

Advertisements