With less than six days remaining now until closest approach, Pluto is starting to show its real face for the first time ever, including a big “heart.”
After an anomaly was detected onboard the New Horizons spacecraft on July 4, which had many people holding their collective breath, NASA announced today that science operations will resume on July 7, just days before the spacecraft makes its closest approach to Pluto and its moons on July 14.
First there were the unusual bright spots on Ceres, which are still awaiting an explanation, and now as New Horizons races toward its flyby encounter with Pluto on July 14, another mystery has emerged: four intriguing large dark spots more or less along Pluto’s equator which seem to be roughly the same size and evenly spaced. The spots are mentioned as part of an update on July 1 from NASA about the “two different faces of Pluto” that scientists are now starting to see in more detail.
The latest images of Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft. The view keeps getting better, with many dark and light areas becoming visible. Also the largest moon Charon:
This is the newest image of the main bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres taken by the Dawn spacecraft. It was taken on May 16, 2015, with a resolution of 700 metres (2,250 feet) per pixel. The second spot on the right can now be seen to be several smaller spots close together.
The Dawn spacecraft has almost reached the dwarf planet Ceres, and a lot more detail can be seen as it gets closer. The odd bright spots which have puzzled scientists for a long time now can also be seen more clearly for the first time. What was thought to be one spot in this crater is now obviously two close together. Are they exposed ice or some other material? Are they related to possible cryovolcanoes? Dawn was 46,000 kilometers (29,000 miles) away when it took this image on February 18, 2015.
The New Horizons spacecraft, on course for a historic encounter with Pluto this summer, is now close enough to see two of its smaller moons for the first time. The new views also come 85 years after the discovery of Pluto by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh on Feb. 18, 1930.