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SEE Pluto's scaly surface in the latest dazzling images from New Horizons

The NASA New Horizons team has received back images of Pluto's surface, depicting strange new geological patterns that are baffling and delighting scientists.

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    In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus Dorsa, rise up along Pluto’s day-night terminator and show intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between. This view, roughly 330 miles across, combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14, and resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles.
    NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
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New Horizons has beamed back high-resolution images of Pluto to NASA. The pictures reveal a landscape that many scientists did not think possible. The pictures are mysterious and striking. The landscape is unexpected. For the first time, humans are able to have a detailed view of the surface of the dwarf planet.

The surface of Pluto “looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology. This’ll really take time to figure out; maybe it’s some combination of internal tectonic forces and ice sublimation driven by Pluto’s faint sunlight,” William McKinnon, New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team deputy lead, said in a NASA blog post.

In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus Dorsa, rise up along Pluto’s day-night terminator and show intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between. This view, roughly 330 miles across, combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14, and resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles. NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

In the above image the informally named Tartarus Dorsa is shown in contrast to the nightline. The image combines various different kinds of photos to give a better view of the surface and color of Pluto. The rounded and textured mountains are bizarre examples of Pluto’s strange geology. The scale-like patterns that Dr. McKinnon described are visible on the surface.

This cylindrical projection map of Pluto, in enhanced, extended color, is the most detailed color map of Pluto ever made. It uses recently returned color imagery from the New Horizons Ralph camera, which is draped onto a base map of images from the NASA’s spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). The map can be zoomed in to reveal exquisite detail with high scientific value. Color variations have been enhanced to bring out subtle differences. Colors used in this map are the blue, red, and near-infrared filter channels of the Ralph instrument. NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

This next image is a swath of Pluto’s surface. It displays the most detailed color map of Pluto that has been made yet. The entire spectrum of color is visible on Pluto’s surface, from the pale yellow and blue to the rich orange and red. The color was enhanced to differentiate more accurately between the colors. 

High-resolution images of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just before closest approach on July 14, reveal features as small as 270 yards across, from craters to faulted mountain blocks, to the textured surface of the vast basin informally called Sputnik Planum. Enhanced color has been added from the global color image. This image is about 330 miles (530 kilometers) across. For optimal viewing, zoom in on the image on a larger screen. NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

This high-resolution image of Pluto was taken moments before New Horizon’s closest approach to the dwarf planet. Small features and geological elements on Pluto’s surface are visible, from craters to blocks of mountains. The large basin is known as Sputnik Planum and it’s texture is visible in the image. The image is 330 miles across, according to NASA’s New Horizon team.

High-resolution images of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just before closest approach on July 14, are the sharpest images to date of Pluto’s varied terrain—revealing details down to scales of 270 meters. In this 75-mile (120-kilometer) section of the taken from the larger, high-resolution mosaic above, the textured surface of the plain surrounds two isolated ice mountains.
NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

This last image was also taken just before the spacecraft’s closest approach on July 14. The image shows 75 miles of Pluto’s surface. Two ice mountains are completely surrounded by plains.

The spacecraft sent more gifts than just images home to the NASA New Horizons team. Compositional information is helping the team analyze the planetary composition of Pluto.

“New Horizons has the ability to make exquisite compositional maps across the surface of Pluto, and that will be crucial to resolving how enigmatic Pluto works,” New Horizons surface composition team lead Will Grundy said in the NASA post.

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