This movie is composed of the sharpest views of Pluto that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft obtained during its flyby of the distant planet on 14 July 2015. The pictures are part of a sequence taken near New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto, with resolutions of about 77-85 metres (250-280 feet) per pixel – revealing features smaller than half a city block on Pluto’s diverse surface. The images include a wide variety of spectacular, cratered, mountainous and glacial terrains – giving scientists and the public alike a breathtaking, super-high resolution window on Pluto’s geology.
The images form a strip 80 kilometres (50 miles) wide trending from Pluto’s jagged horizon about 800 kilometres (500 miles) northwest of the informally named Sputnik Planum, across the al-Idrisi mountains, onto the shoreline of Sputnik Planum and then across its icy plains. They were made with the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard New Horizons, over a timespan of about a minute centered on 11:36 UTC 14 on July – just about 15 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto –from a range of just 17,000 kilometres (10,000 miles). They were obtained with an unusual observing mode; instead of working in the usual “point and shoot,” LORRI snapped pictures every three seconds while the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) aboard New Horizons was scanning the surface. This mode requires unusually short exposures to avoid blurring the images.
All told, the images are six times better than the resolution of the global Pluto map New Horizons obtained, and five times better than the best images of Pluto’s cousin Triton, Neptune’s large moon, obtained by Voyager 2 in 1989.