As NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft approaches Pluto, the dwarf planet gradually reveals its secrets. In the last series of images made by the spacecraft, which is now not the periphery of the Kuiper Belt, it becomes noticeable that Pluto may have polar caps.
“As we get closer to Pluto, we are starting to notice the intriguing features of Pluto’s surface, such as bright areas near the pole of a dwarf planet,” said John Gransfeld, assistant administrator at NASA's Washington Flight Research Office. "The closer we are to the dwarf planet, the more Pluto secrets we can, using the data of the New Horizons mission."
Made in mid-April from a distance of less than 70 million miles from the dwarf planet, the images were taken by LORRI long range reconnaissance camera (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager), on which vast areas with different albedos (surface brightness) are clearly visible. The photograph can also distinguish the largest satellite of Pluto - Charon. Both bodies rotate around a common point in space, known as the barycenter of the Pluto-Charon system, located above the surface of Pluto. But the most striking thing in this series of observations is not incredible fluctuations of Pluto and Charon, not a spotted rotating landscape, or even a bright region at the Pluto's pole; These are clear signs that the planet has a rich and dynamic design. But we still have 3 months to think about, until we see Pluto for the first time in close-up.
“After more than nine years of traveling through space, it’s simply amazing that we can see Pluto, which from Earth appears to be a tiny dot, right before our eyes,” said Alan Stern, the principal investigator of the New Horizons mission from the South-West Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "These incredible images have already shown us that Pluto has a complex surface."
"We can only imagine what surprises we will discover when the spacecraft passes approximately 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) above the surface of Pluto this summer," said New Weaver project scientist Hal Weaver at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory ( APL) in Laurel, Maryland.