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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Pluto Photographed with Pristine Detail

Recent Pluto photograph taken by NASA's New Horizons mission reveals a heart-shaped region
This colored photo by NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and the Southwest Research Institute reveals a heart-shaped region boasting mountains and ice.

Since the time of being demoted to “dwarf planet” status in late 2006, Pluto shines in the astronomy news spotlight once again. After nine years of its January 2006 launch, NASA’s New Horizons space probe passed Pluto at its closest encounter ever on Tuesday, July 14th, 2015. Now, earthlings in the United States and around the world are treated with new, spectacular images of Pluto and its moons, such as Charon and Hydra. Photos were taken by a device named LORRI, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager. Non-enhanced images are available to the public at this website:; link opens in new tab or window. LORRI captured images of interesting geologic features on Pluto and its planets. Photographs reveal mountains standing more than 11,000 feet high (about 3,500 meters) on Pluto, deep canyons on Charon, and a less-cratered Charon surface than initially thought. Knowing that Charon has a less-cratered surface means Pluto’s largest moon has a relatively young surface shaped by active geologic changes, which can wipe out evidence of Kuiper Belt debris impacts. Pluto has long captured the hearts of humans for being a small "underdog" planet and having a Disney character with the same name. Now we know Pluto has a heart - a large, heart-shaped southern region comprised of mountains and ice geology, that is.

Several interesting facts abound with regards to the New Horizons mission. The space probe carries ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto at the Lowell Observatory in 1930. Speed increased when New Horizons utilized Jupiter’s orbital forces to fling itself faster towards Pluto, shortening the trip by a couple of years. It has the ability to operate for more than 20 years – as long as space debris does not destroy it.

Updates from the New Herizons mission team can be found on Facebook at and on Twitter at

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Blog Background

The background has three Hubble Space Telescope images, which are accessible at this Hubble webpage:

— LH 95 is a star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, Dorado constellation.

— Ant Nebula (also called Menzel 3) is an aptly-named planetary nebula located in the constellation Norma.
— Egg Nebula (also called CL 2688) is a protoplanetary nebula in the constellation Cygnus.

HubbleSite Image Links: LH 95, Ant Nebula, and Egg Nebula