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Pluto heart
A heart-shaped patch of nitrogen-rich ice (outlined in red) lies next to a mountain range on Pluto, as seen in a picture from NASA’s New Horizons probe. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI with heartification by Vicknesh Selvamani / @Vicknesh96)

If you heart Pluto, you’ll love the sharpest, closest close-up of the dwarf planet, just sent back by NASA’s New Horizons probe.

The images, captured from a distance of 10,000 miles during the July 14 flyby, include a heart-shaped block of nitrogen-rich ice right on the edge of the big heart-shaped region known informally as Tombaugh Regio.

You can also see the craggy blocks of water ice that form the al-Idrisi mountains, bull’s-eye impact craters on Sputnik Planum, and ripples and layers in Pluto’s icy crust. The pictures have a maximum resolution of 250 feet per pixel, which is less than the length of a football field.

“These new images give us a breathtaking, super-high resolution window into Pluto’s geology,” the mission’s principal investigator, Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, said in Friday’s image advisory. “Nothing of this quality was available for Venus or Mars until decades after their first flybys; yet at Pluto we’re there already – down among the craters, mountains and ice fields – less than five months after flyby! The science we can do with these images is simply unbelievable.”

Friday’s pictures were assembled into a mosaic that shows a 50-mile-wide, 500-mile-long strip, extending from Pluto’s horizon down to its icy plains. This picture gives you the lay of the land, but you can also watch the video to pan through the view, or zoom in on a high-resolution version.

Pluto mosaic
This mosaic is composed of the sharpest views of Pluto that New Horizons obtained during its July 14 flyby. The images were captured with New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager over a timespan of about a minute. (Credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

The piano-sized New Horizons spacecraft stored up gigabytes’ worth of data and imagery during the flyby and has been slowly and steadily sending the readings back to Earth. Still more images from the closest close approach are expected in the days ahead, and it’ll be another year before all the pictures are sent down. Then, if all goes as hoped, the New Horizons team will focus more fully on the probe’s next target, a smaller world in the broad ring of icy material known as the Kuiper Belt.

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