NASA's New Horizons Probe Gets Clearest Look to Date at Pluto's Complex Surface

PHOTO: These images, taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, show four different “faces” of Pluto as it rotates about its axis with a period of 6.4 days.NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
These images, taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, show four different “faces” of Pluto as it rotates about its axis with a period of 6.4 days. All the images have been rotated to align Pluto's rotational axis with the vertical direction (up-down) on the figure, as depicted schematically in the upper left.

As NASA's New Horizons probe nears its July flyby of Pluto, the spacecraft sent back new images showing the complex surface of the dwarf planet.

The spacecraft's telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) captured a series of photos showing Pluto's varied terrain, including contrasting light and dark areas. The images are the best views yet of the dwarf planet, according to NASA.

New Horizons is preparing for a July rendezvous with Pluto. When it conducts its flyby, New Horizons is expected to send back detailed color images showing surface features as close as a few miles across, according to NASA.

The spacecraft blasted off for its long-haul mission on Jan. 19, 2006, atop a powerful Atlas V rocket, back when Pluto still enjoyed status as a planet. Scientists later that year voted to demote Pluto to a "dwarf planet."

During its epic trip, New Horizons spent two-thirds of the time sleeping, taking a total of 18 naps, which helped NASA preserve the systems on board.

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