New Horizons Probe Spots Donut and Whale-Shaped Features on Pluto

PHOTO: New Horizons spots whale and donut features on Pluto.PlayNASA
WATCH What the New Horizons Probe Will Tell Us About Pluto

Less than a week away from its flyby of Pluto, NASA's New Horizons probe is sending back incredible images to Earth showing whale and donut-shaped features on the surface of the dwarf planet.

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A dark equatorial band measuring 1,860 miles has been dubbed "the whale." The feature's "tail" on the left side of the map appears to cradle a bright area that NASA researchers are calling "the donut."

The donut could be an impact crater or a volcano, however, researchers are holding off making any actual assessments until New Horizons gets closer to Pluto and is able to capture more detailed images.

New Horizons had a scare over the weekend when the space probe, which has been on a nearly decade-long journey to the dwarf planet, briefly entered safe mode. NASA said the glitch appeared to be caused by a "hard-to-detect timing flaw in the spacecraft command sequence" and that the probe is on track for its July 14 rendezvous with Pluto.

The spacecraft is scheduled to come as close as 6,200 miles from the surface of the dwarf planet.

New Horizons blasted into space atop an Atlas V rocket in January 2006. Pluto at the time was still considered a planet, with scientists later that year voting to demote its status to that of a dwarf planet.

After a sleepy nine years, the probe woke up in December 2014 from the last of its 18 hibernation periods as it prepared for its initial approach toward Pluto.