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Backlit Pluto shows off icy peaks, haze... and is that fog?

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Friday, September 18, 2015, 8:40 PM - The latest batch of Pluto flyby images to arrive back at Earth are wowing scientists and enthusiasts alike, showing off amazing and unexpected finds!

The first 15 minutes after NASA's New Horizons probe soared past Pluto may have netted the agency the best close-up images of the dwarf planet yet, highlighting a hazy atmosphere hanging over icy mountains, with valleys filled with what looks like fog!

Taken just 18,000 kms from the surface of Pluto, after New Horizons flew past, this image reveals what NASA describes as "Pluto’s Majestic Mountains, Frozen Plains and Foggy Hazes." From 'behind' the dwarf planet, the extreme angle of the Sun at the terminator highlights icy peaks that soar 3,500 metres above the surface, vast frozen plains and the layers of Pluto's hazy atmosphere. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

And zooming in on the centre of the image brings the mountains and plains into even sharper focus.


And zooming in ever farther, to the lower right of the above image, to the region right along the terminator, low-lying regions are revealed to be filled with nitrogen haze or fog.


According to NASA:

Owing to its favorable backlighting and high resolution, this MVIC image also reveals new details of hazes throughout Pluto’s tenuous but extended nitrogen atmosphere. The image shows more than a dozen thin haze layers extending from near the ground to at least 60 miles (100 kilometers) above the surface. In addition, the image reveals at least one bank of fog-like, low-lying haze illuminated by the setting sun against Pluto’s dark side, raked by shadows from nearby mountains.
"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, Flagstaff, Arizona.
Combined with other recently downloaded pictures, this new image also provides evidence for a remarkably Earth-like “hydrological” cycle on Pluto – but involving soft and exotic ices, including nitrogen, rather than water ice.

Source: NASA

WATCH BELOW: Want more Pluto vistas? Check out this incredible new "fly-over" video Stuart Robbins stitched together from images downloaded up until September 11.

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