A day after the historic overflight by the probe New Horizons, NASA has published a first image, the most accurate to date, of the dwarf planet.
In the photo, it is possible to see fairly high mountains of about 3500 m altitude. There are also cliffs and canyons, one of which is probably 10 km deep.
Tuesday’s suspense day by NASA technicians was a highlight of the history of the space conquest and the confirmation of the success of the mission in the evening was unanimously hailed.
This small, piano-sized probe was launched in 2006, the same year that Pluto, long considered the ninth planet in our solar system, was reclassified as a dwarf planet because of its small size. Indeed, Pluto is smaller than our Moon, for example.
Since Voyager 2, which flew over Neptune in 1989, no new planet had been approached so closely.
Data finally reaches Earth
The probe spent the day of Tuesday, when it was closer to Pluto, to take measurements and take pictures, without communicating or transmitting anything to the Earth, except for the short message confirming the success of his mission.
On Wednesday, she finally turns to us and starts sending her flood of data.
Now we see Pluto. We had no idea what was waiting for us, it could have been interesting, nothing more … But the extraordinary thing about exploration, science, is that nature always reserves us incredible surprises. It turns out that Pluto is a fascinating complex world, and it will take time for us to understand everything that’s going on.
John Grunsfeld, Director of NASA Science Missions
The other images that will be released soon are clear and detailed, with a resolution of about 100 meters per pixel.
It is possible to see a heart-shaped region, as well as several areas of dark and light colors. The New Horizons team revealed that they named the large, heart-shaped light zone the “Tombaugh region”, named after Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of the planet, in 1930.
The data sent by the probe in recent days during its approach can already confirm the presence of ice on the poles and refine the measurements on the exact size of the dwarf planet.
Mission officials explain that it will take a total of 16 months for the probe to transmit all the data collected in a few hours during its flight.
In the meantime, New Horizons continues its path towards the Kuiper Belt, a vast cluster of debris beyond its orbit.
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