The New Horizons spacecraft photographed the day side of the dwarf planet Pluto during its flyby this July. Here’s a full rotation from the iconic heart to the squibbly backside that will taunt us with mysteries until the next time we visit the far reaches of the solar system.
The New Horizons spacecraft flew past its closest approach with Pluto in July 2015, and is now heading farther out into deep space. Only the initial, highest-priority data has been sent to Earth so far, limiting us to just a handful of gorgeous close-ups and tantalizing hints of riddles waiting to be unravelled. We already knew that night on Pluto was spectacularly beautiful, but in this latest composite image from New Horizons team member Don Jennings we also know that perpetual daylight is lovely, too.
A full day on Pluto is approximately 153 hours long (6.39 Earth-days), so the gap between each image captures 15 hours and 20 minutes of rotation. The red arrow marks a fixed point on the dwarf planet’s surface, offering a frame of reference in each time-stepped rotation. Like our own Earth’s poles, parts of Pluto are in perpetual daylight for the season with neither sunrises nor sunsets. The biggest difference is that with a year 247.7 Earth-years long, that season of endless summer (or perpetual darkness on the far side of the dwarf planet) lasts a lot, lot longer!
Images: A full rotation of Pluto as captured by the New Horizons probe during its July 2015 flyby of the dwarf planet. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/ Don Jennings