Scientists with the New Horizons mission to Pluto released a new batch of images Thursday they called both "stunning" and "a scientific bonanza."
One of the most defining characteristics of the dwarf planet's surface revealed in early images from the fly-by mission was its "heart," a heart-shaped formation that became known as Sputnik Planum.
So far, images have mostly shown the region in two-dimensions, as seen from above. But the new images show the edge of the plain in relief, where it meets massive mountains on its southwest edge.
"This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself," New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., said in a statement. "But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains."
The images were taken as New Horizons sped past Pluto on July 14. They are backlit by the sun, allowing scientists to see not just the mountains' majesty but also more than a dozen layers of haze as much as 60 miles above Pluto's surface.
"In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth," Will Grundy, lead of the New Horizons Composition team from the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., said in a statement.
The New Horizons mission was managed from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel.