Pluto shows Mystery Face for One Last Time

Posted: Jul 13, 2015 06:57 pm EDT

(Tina Sjogren) Three billion miles from Earth NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has taken its best image of the four dark spots, calling the pic, "the last, best look that anyone will have of Pluto’s far side for decades to come.”  


The spots appear on a side of Pluto that will be invisible to New Horizons when the spacecraft makes its close flyby the morning of July 14. Sadly, we won't even know if they are "plateaus or plains, or whether they’re brightness variations on a completely smooth surface," NASA spokes-people said.


Instead, it's on to the opposing or “encounter hemisphere” of the dwarf planet. On the morning of July 14, New Horizons will pass about 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometers) from the face with a large heart-shaped feature. 


New Horizons was originally planned as a voyage to the only unexplored planet in the Solar System. When the spacecraft was launched, Pluto was still classified as a planet, later to be reclassified as a dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Some members of the New Horizons team disagree with the IAU definition and still describe Pluto as the ninth planet. About 30 grams (1 oz) of Clyde Tombaugh's ashes are aboard the spacecraft, to commemorate his discovery of Pluto in 1930.



Final Countdown to Last Outpost in our Solar System 


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New Horizons' last look at Pluto's Charon-facing hemisphere, with the mysterious spots covering an area the size of the state of Missouri. Image taken July 11, 2015, 2.5 million miles (4 million kilometers) from Pluto.
For the first time on Pluto, this view reveals linear features that may be cliffs, as well as a circular feature that could be an impact crater. Rotating into view is the bright heart-shaped feature that will be seen in more detail during New Horizon's closest approach on July 14. The annotated version includes a diagram indicating Pluto's north pole, equator, and central meridian.
"I Heart Pluto" - NASA pic of new feature shared on FB (click to expand).
courtesy NASA, SOURCE

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