The icy plains make up part of the large, heart-shaped feature seen in previous Pluto photos, and border a mountainous region.

Pluto nearly fills the frame in this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, taken on July 13, 2015 when the spacecraft was 476,000 miles (768,000 kilometers) from the surface. This is the last and most detailed image sent to Earth before the spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The color image has been combined with lower-resolution color information from the Ralph instrument that was acquired earlier on July 13. This view is dominated by the large, bright feature informally named the “heart,” which measures approximately 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. The heart borders darker equatorial terrains, and the mottled terrain to its east (right) are complex. However, even at this resolution, much of the heart’s interior appears remarkably featureless—possibly a sign of ongoing geologic processes.
Credits: NASA/APL/SwRI

This graphic presents a view of Pluto and Charon as they would appear if placed slightly above Earth's surface and viewed from a great distance.  Recent measurements obtained by New Horizons indicate that Pluto has a diameter of 2370 km, 18.5% that of Earth's, while Charon has a diameter of 1208 km, 9.5% that of Earth's.
Last Updated: July 14, 2015
Editor: Tricia Talbert

A portrait from the final approach. Pluto and Charon display striking color and brightness contrast in this composite image from July 11, showing high-resolution black-and-white LORRI images colorized with Ralph data collected from the last rotation of Pluto. Color data being returned by the spacecraft now will update these images, bringing color contrast into sharper focus.

Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
Last Updated: July 14, 2015

Pluto as seen from New Horizons on July 11, 2015.

billion miles from Earth and just two and a half million miles from Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has taken its best image of four dark spots that continue to captivate. 

The spots appear on the side of Pluto that always faces its largest moon, Charon—the face that will be invisible to New Horizons when the spacecraft makes its close flyby the morning of July 14. New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, describes this image as “the last, best look that anyone will have of Pluto’s far side for decades to come.”

The spots are connected to a dark belt that circles Pluto’s equatorial region. What continues to pique the interest of scientists is their similar size and even spacing. “It’s weird that they’re spaced so regularly,” says New Horizons program scientist Curt Niebur at NASA Headquarters in Washington.  Jeff Moore of NASA’s Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California, is equally intrigued. “We can’t tell whether they’re plateaus or plains, or whether they’re brightness variations on a completely smooth surface.” 


As New Horizons bears down on Pluto, its images just get sharper and sharper.

The probe's latest picture released on Saturday has started to give scientists some real indications of the geology on the dwarf world.

The new black-and-white view reveals a vast band of patterned terrain stretching around the globe for roughly 1,500km.

Nasa's spacecraft is due to flyby the distant mini-planet on Tuesday.

When it does so, it will be just 12,500km above the surface.

At that point, its telescopic camera, Lorri, will be acquiring images at a resolution that is better than 100m per pixel.

But for the moment, features still have a rather blurred look about them.

This latest shot from Lorri was taken on Thursday when New Horizons was still 5.4 million km from its target.

At this distance, the resolution is 27km per pixel. Nonetheless, even at this range, there is plenty to excite the geologists.

You can still see just below this band the very dark terrain that scientists had dubbed "the whale". Not visible anymore, however, if the very bright region that looked like a heart in earlier images. This has rotated out of view.

It will, though, come back around as it will be the face of Pluto that is presented to New Horizons at closest approach.

"Among the structures tentatively identified in this new image are what appear to be polygonal features; a complex band of terrain stretching east-northeast across the planet, approximately 1,000 miles long; and a complex region where bright terrains meet the dark terrains of the whale," said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern.

Science team members react to the latest image of Pluto at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab on July 10, 2015. Left to right: Cathy Olkin, Jason Cook, Alan Stern, Will Grundy, Casey Lisse, and Carly Howett.
Credits: Michael Soluri

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