Possible Pluto polar cap appears in latest New Horizons photos

For the first time, images from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft are revealing bright and dark regions on the surface of the dwarf... (4)
This series of images of Pluto and it largest moon, Charon, was taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft between April 12-18, 2015. The spacecraft's distance from Pluto decreased from about 69 million miles (93 million km) to 64 million miles (104 million km) during that time. The blue cross is the system's center of gravity. Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI

For the first time, images from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft are revealing bright and dark regions on the surface of the dwarf planet Pluto. The latest photos were taken from 64-70 million miles away in mid-April using the telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera on the probe. 70 million may sound far until you realize that Pluto's currently more than 3 billion miles from Earth today.

Pluto with axis April2015
Pluto and Charon with Pluto's rotation axis shown. The bright spot at the right is a possible polar cap. Credit:


Besides those dark and bright regions, there's a bright area at one of Pluto's poles. A polar cap? Maybe. We also see Pluto's largest and brightest moon, Charon, rotating in its 6.4-day long orbit in the photos. Since the exposures were brief - 1/10 of a second - none of the dwarf planet's tiny, fainter moons are seen.

Pluto New Horizons graphic journey
NASA's New Horizons mission launched in Jan. 2006 and will arrive at Pluto on July 14. After the flyby, NASA hopes to send it on to explore additional asteroids in the outer asteroid belt called the Kuipter Belt. Credit: NASA

"After traveling more than nine years through space, it's stunning to see Pluto, literally a dot of light as seen from Earth, becoming a real place right before our eyes," said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator. "These incredible images are the first in which we can begin to see detail on Pluto, and they are already showing us that Pluto has a complex surface."

Pluto and cap April 2015 still
Still frame from the animations above. Credit:

Although just a blobby dot, these are the best images of Pluto EVER, even better than those taken with the Hubble Space Telescope. And the good news is, we're hardly even close. During its mid-July flyby, New Horizons will swoop only 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) above Pluto's surface. Polar bears anyone?

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