New Pluto images suggest the dwarf planet is still evolving

Making good on its promise that the 'best data' is yet to come, NASA on Thursday released several new images from the New Horizons spacecraft's historic flyby of Pluto.

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Pluto's horizon is seen at sunset in this image from a flyby of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on July 14

Even after being downgraded to a "dwarf planet" Pluto, the ninth planet in our solar system, continues to draw attention.

What we know about the planet, its atmosphere and Charon, its largest moon, is still evolving, as scientists release images taken from the New Horizons spacecraft, following its flyby of Pluto on July 14. New images from the the spacecraft released by NASA on Thursday reveal a landscape that is both familiarly rugged and somewhat otherworldly.

Here are a few of the latest images, already making good on the New Horizon team's promise that the "best data" is yet to come:

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
A few minutes after its closest approach to Pluto, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft points back toward the sun from 11,000 miles away, showing the planet's rugged, mountainous terrain covered in ice. The smooth Sputnik Planum is at right, next to rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet high.

Pluto's geological evolution may be ongoing, as the Monitor's Pete Spotts reported. The agency has released several images of a smooth plain it is calling Sputnik Planum.

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
A composite image of several New Horizons views of Pluto shows a smooth, frigid plain which NASA is calling Sputnik Planum. at left. The expanse to the right, NASA says, may be coated in nitrogen ice which comes from the surface of Sputnik Planum

The images even show the planet's changing weather patterns:

NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
This image from the New Horizons spacecraft shows a low-lying haze of fog at sunset on Pluto's surface. "In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth," says Will Grundy, lead of the New Horizons Composition team, in a statement released by the agency.

Despite the promise shown by the New Horizons mission in chronicling Pluto's ongoing evolution, the agency is unsure whether it will extend the mission, saying it will have a decision by next year.

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