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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Pluto - 47 Days

By Phil Plait

In 47 days, the New Horizons spacecraft will zip past Pluto and its moons at a relative speed of 14 kilometers per second. As of right now, there’s more than 50 million km still to go.

But earlier in May, the probe turned its cameras toward Pluto and took a series of images. They’re still pixelated, but wow.

As you can see, surface features are getting easier to discern (note that a different part of Pluto was seen by the probe on each day, so you're seeing different features). It’s not just light and dark patches, but they have some shape to them as well. It actually reminds me a bit of seeing Mars through a small ‘scope. Note that on the May 10 image there appears to be a dark chunk taken out of Pluto’s side; that’s an illusion due to that spot being particularly dark; it blends in with the blackness of space and fools your eye into thinking Pluto’s missing a piece.

These images are considerably better than what we saw in April, too:

Not bad. As before, the new images have been carefully planned and post-processed to increase their resolution. These shots were taken from 80, 77, and 75 million km away and are already in many ways better than we can get even with Hubble.

So stay tuned. Every day, New Horizons gets more than 1 million kilometers closer to Pluto, and well be getting some amazing views, culminating in the flyby on July 14. What delights and wonders will we see then?

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