The new images of Pluto downloaded by the New Horizons spacecraft show that the dwarf planet is far more varied and complex than NASA had expected.
After receiving and releasing initial images from the spacecraft's July 14 flyby, NASA began a yearlong downlinking process to acquire all of the data and high resolution photography from New Horizons, according to a press release. These photographs with more detail reveal unexpected terrain diversity, such as ice flows seemingly cascading from mountains into plains, as well as what appear to be dunes.
“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” said Alan Stern, the New Horizons principal investigator “If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”
Photos from New Horizons have surprised scientists since the spacecraft approached and then passed Pluto in July, capturing unprecedented views of the dwarf planet along the way.