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NASA posts detailed image of Pluto as the New Horizons spacecraft flies by

'We’re close enough now that we’re just starting to see Pluto’s geology.'


Patrick Howell O'Neill

Internet Culture

Posted on Jul 11, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 9:25 am CDT

A decade after launch and 3 billion miles of travel later, the New Horizons spacecraft is flying by Pluto and giving humanity the most detailed pictures and data ever obtained from the dwarf planet we know so little about.


Even the first photo from New Horizons is revealing new information about Pluto, like the complex surface features that no one has ever seen before. 

“We’re close enough now that we’re just starting to see Pluto’s geology,” New Horizons program scientist Curt Niebur said from NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. 

He pointed to the “whale’s tail” region annotated above.

“It’s a unique transition region with a lot of dynamic processes interacting, which makes it of particular scientific interest,” Niebur explained.

The picture was taken 3.3 million miles away from the planet. New Horizons will be flying much closer in the coming days, showing off the dwarf planet in even greater detail from as close as 7,800 miles away from the surface. That’s closer than the planes you can see looking up from earth.

After that, New Horizons still has more frontiers. The Kuiper belt, the enormous region of the solar system beyond the planets, is the next target for exploration.

Photo via NASA

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*First Published: Jul 11, 2015, 12:52 pm CDT