NASA releases stunning new 'Earth-like' images of Pluto

Get to Know Pluto As New Photos Come in Over the Next Year
Get to Know Pluto As New Photos Come in Over the Next Year

In images released last Thursday by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, dwarf planet Pluto features breathtaking views of majestic icy mountains, streams of frozen nitrogen and and haunting low-lying hazes.

But what has scientists so stunned? The scenes are a little too familiar.

"In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth," said Will Grundy, lead of the New Horizons Composition team from Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., said in a statement released by NASA.

See the new images and the evolution of NASA's view of Pluto:

With dramatic backlighting thanks to the position of the sun, this new view of Pluto's crescent stunningly highlights the dwarf planet's varied terrains, extended atmosphere and familiar Arctic look.

According to NASA, the new images, taken by New Horizons' wide-angle Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14 and downlinked to Earth on Sept. 13, also show evidence that Pluto has an Earth-like "hydrological" cycle involving soft and exotic ices including nitrogen, rather than water ice.​

"We did not expect to find hints of a nitrogen-based glacial cycle on Pluto operating in the frigid conditions of the outer solar system," said Alan Howard, a member of the mission's Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

"Pluto is surprisingly Earth-like in this regard," added Stern, "and no one predicted it."

NASA was able to combine their various observations of the icy dwarf planet from over the course of several decades with recent New Horizons high-resolution imagery in an impressive animation released in July. The first frame is a digital zoom-in on Pluto as it appeared upon its discovery by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930.

The other images show various evolving views of Pluto as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope beginning in the 1990s, and ends with a close-up frame from the New Horizons flyby.

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Originally published