NASA’s New Horizons has completed its historic flyby over Pluto, once the smallest planet of the Solar system before it was demoted to dwarf planet status the same year the spacecraft was launched from Earth to visit Pluto and the rest of the heavenly bodies on the Kuiper belt.
Though the flyby was completed last July 14, 2015, the images are still coming in trickles and would take several months to be completely sent to Earth. Still, the impressive shots taken at a closest distance of 77,000 kilometers (48,000 miles) were quite amazing, considering that the spacecraft was holding the technology of 10 years ago!
The images taken by the e Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were so clear that features as small as one kilometer across (0.6 miles) can be clearly seen, reports IFL Science.
Data from the New Horizons flyby also changed several conventions regarding Pluto. For example, Pluto was found to be much larger than it was first estimated to be.
As a Kuiper belt object, everyone expected Pluto to have plenty of craters from being hit by smaller objects in the belt yet the flyby showed that the surface was devoid of craters. Astronomers are now theorizing that the planet experiences active geologic activity or might be younger than what it was believed to be.
There is also a possibility that it actually snows on the planet, “erasing” impact craters. The planet is also full of bright and dark spots, the origins and contents of which are still largely unknown until more data is received from New Horizons.
What is clear based on the early images sent by the spacecraft back to Earth is that Pluto has a bright heart and a large dark patch which is now being called as “Mordor”.
Check out the Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) and Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain) on Pluto in this animated video released by NASA using data from New Horizons: