Pluto has a heart – NASA reveals spectacular images of the dwarf planet

Pluto, the Solar System’s most well known planet wanna-be is having its week in the spotlight: NASA’s New Horizons probe is offering an unprecedented look at the dwarf planet, and already revealing some interesting features.

Note the brighter heart-like feature in the lower right. Seriously Pluto, why are you so cute? (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Astronomers were thrilled to present the clearest image of the brown-reddish Pluto taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) onboard the New Horizons shuttle. As the shuttle passes right in besides Pluto, it will focus approximately on the same area, and we’ll be able to see it in even more detail.

“The next time we see this part of Pluto at closest approach, a portion of this region will be imaged at about 500 times better resolution than we see today. It will be incredible!,” said Jeff Moore, Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team Leader of NASA’s Ames Research Center.

The image shows three distinct areas with different brightness, and it also shows that Pluto doesn’t only have a heart… it also has a whale! You can spot the “whale” (a dark spot) in the lower left of this new photo. The heart we’ve actually seen before, and NASA astronomers suspect it is the result of recently formed frost with a very distinguishing shape.

But it’s not just New Horizons that has its eyes peeled at Pluto. Much of NASA’s fleet of observatories have taken a break from their day to day work and are focusing on the dwarf planet.

“NASA is aiming some of our most powerful space observatories at Pluto,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division Director at NASA Headquarters, Washington. “With their unique capabilities combined, we will have a multi-faceted view of the Pluto system complementary to New Horizons data.”

Most notably, the Cassini probe will also gaze at Pluto – but although Cassini is the closest thing to Pluto except New Horizons, it’s still really far away. Pluto will be little more than a bright dot.

“The Cassini team has been pleased to provide occasional imaging support for New Horizons for several years to aid with the Pluto-bound spacecraft’s navigation. It’s great to provide one last look as it soars through the Pluto system,” said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

New Horizons is set to make its historical flyby of Pluto next week, we’ll keep you posted with updates.

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