Astronomy Picture of the Day
January 12, 2016

A long view over Sputnik Planum
A long view over Sputnik Planum

Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute and Dr Paolo C. Fienga/LXTT/IPF for the additional process. and color.

This impressive High-Resolution image-mosaic of the Dwarf-Planet Pluto, returned to Earth on December, 24, 2015, extends the NASA - New Horizons Spacecraft' Highest-Resolution swath of Pluto to the very center of the (so far) informally named Sputnik Planum, and nearly completes the set of Highest-Resolution images taken by the Spacecraft last July.

The pictures are part of a sequence taken near New Horizons' closest approach to Pluto, with resolutions of about 250-280 feet (such as approx. 76,2 to 85,34 meters) per pixel, and fit to reveal Features smaller than half a city block which are located on Pluto's Surface. The images shown here form a strip approx. 50 miles (such as about 80,467 Km) wide and more than 400 miles (such as approx. 643,736 Km) long, trending from the N/W Shoreline of Sputnik Planum and out across its Icy Plains. The images illustrate the polygonal - or cellular - pattern of the Plains, which are thought to result from the convective churning of a deep layer made out by solid, but still slightly mobile, Nitrogen Ice.

The Surface of Sputnik Planum appears darker toward the abovementioned Rocky Shoreline (look at the top of the image-mosaic), possibly implying a change in its Composition or Surface Texture. The occasional raised, darker Blocks at the cell edges, are probably dirty Water "Icebergs" floating in denser (---> almost) Solid Nitrogen.

The pictures were taken with the Telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (or "LORRI", for short) located aboard New Horizons, from a range of approximately 10.000 miles (such as roughly 16.093,4 Km) over a timespan of about one minute, centered on 11:36 UT of July 14, 2015 (meaning just about 15 minutes before New Horizons' closest approach to Pluto). The images are six times better than the resolution of the Global Pluto Map that the NASA - New Horizons Spacecraft already obtained, and five times better than the best images of Pluto's "cousin", Triton: such as Neptune's largest moon, that was obtained by the NASA - Voyager 2 Spacecraft in the AD 1989.

The image (which is an Original NASA - New Horizons Spacecraft's b/w and NON Map-Projected image-mosaic published on the NASA - Planetary Photojournal with the ID n. 20336) has been additionally processed, reduced in size to fit the page, contrast enhanced and sharpened, Gamma corrected and then colorized (according to an educated guess - or an informed speculation, if you wish - carried out by Dr Paolo C. Fienga-LXTT-IPF) in Absolute Natural Colors (such as the colors that a normal human eye would actually perceive if someone were onboard the NASA - New Horizons Spacecraft and then looked outside, toward the Dwarf-Planet Pluto), by using an original technique created - and, in time, dramatically improved - by the Lunar Explorer Italia Team.

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