New Horizons Nearing Pluto

In less than a week, July 14 dawns with New Horizons orbiting Pluto at 12,500 kilometers. One of New Horizons niftiest capabilities comes from LORRI – Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, a remarkable high definition camera.

Take a few minutes to watch this video from the National Space Society.

This image of Pluto from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was received on July 8. This view is centered roughly on the area that will be seen close-up during New Horizons’ July 14 closest approach. This side of Pluto is dominated by three broad regions of varying brightness. Most prominent are an elongated dark feature at the equator, informally known as “the whale,” and a large heart-shaped bright area measuring some 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) across on the right. Above those features is a polar region that is intermediate in brightness. Image credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SWRI

Image taken on July 7 at a distance of 8 million kilometers by LORRI. When New Horizons reaches closest orbit on July 14, resolution will be 500 times clearer. Of interest are the elongated dark spot (dubbed – the whale) and heart shaped bright spot. This is the same view New Horizons will concentrate efforts on July 14. The “whale” measures 3000 kilometers, the “bright spot”, roughly 1,200 kilometers across.

From –

“The elongated dark area informally known as “the whale,” along the equator on the left side of the map, is one of the darkest regions visible to New Horizons. It measures some 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers) in length.

Directly to the right of the whale’s “head” is the brightest region visible on the planet, which is roughly 990 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. This may be a region where relatively fresh deposits of frost—perhaps including frozen methane, nitrogen and/or carbon monoxide—form a bright coating.

Continuing to the right, along the equator, we see the four mysterious dark spots that have so intrigued the world, each of which is hundreds of miles across. Meanwhile, the whale’s “tail,” at the left end of the dark feature, cradles a bright donut-shaped feature about 200 miles (350 kilometers) across. At first glance it resembles circular features seen elsewhere in the solar system, from impact craters to volcanoes. But scientists are holding off on making any interpretation of this and other features on Pluto until more detailed images are in hand.”

Ponder New Horizons, a little probe nine years and five billion kilometers from Earth, traveling at 49,600 Kph., about to settle into orbit 12,500 kilometers above Pluto. If that doesn’t raise your holy crap meter, nothing will.