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Cool image time! As expected, the New Horizons team has made its weekly press announcement, though on Thursday instead of Friday, releasing new images taken by the spacecraft during its July 14 flyby.
The image above has been cropped and reduced by me to fit. Make sure you look at the full resolution image.
Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft looked back toward the sun and captured a near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon. The smooth expanse of the informally named Sputnik Planum (right) is flanked to the west (left) by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. The backlighting highlights more than a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere. The image was taken from a distance of 11,000 miles (18,000 kilometers) to Pluto; the scene is 230 miles (380 kilometers) across.
The mountains are made of ice, the glacier flows of nitrogen.
The main takeaway so far is that Pluto might have a “hydrological” cycle like Earth’s, but instead of water cycling from ice to water to gas to rain, it appears it is nitrogen and other strange materials.