NASA releases first Pluto flyby images

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NASA has released the first images taken during New Horizons’ historic flyby of dwarf planet Pluto.

“We have got a whole bunch of high-resolution observations safely on the spacecraft,” said New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team Leader John Spencer, during a press conference at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, which is managing the mission. “We’re now focusing on small details on this amazing world.”

NASA released its first closeup image of an area near Pluto’s equator Wednesday, which contains a range of mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet above the dwarf planet’s icy surface.

“These mountains are quite spectacular,” said Spencer.

New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern compared the range to the Rocky Mountains, adding that they provide clues about Pluto’s geology. “The steep topography means that the bedrock that made these mountains must be of H20, water ice,” he said. “We can be really sure that the water is there in great abundance.”

The image was taken about an hour-and-a-half before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 478,000 miles from the planet’s surface.

NASA also released an image of Pluto’s largest moon Charon, which clearly shows a swath of cliffs and troughs stretching about 600 miles across its surface.

“Charon blew our socks off when we had this new image today,” said New Horizons Deputy Project Scientist Cathy Olkin, during the press conference. “We have just been thrilled.”

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