Pluto continues to astound both scientists and laypeople.
On July 14 -- 15 minutes after NASA's New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to Pluto, after traveling nearly a decade and covering 3 billion miles to be there -- the probe captured this stunning backlit panorama:
In addition to sharp relief provided by rugged mountains, this "sunset" view reveals the depth of Pluto's sparse, nitrogen-heavy atmosphere, which extends 60 miles above the icy surface.
"In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth," Will Grundy, lead of the New Horizons composition team, said in a statement.
The photo was captured from 11,000 miles above Pluto's surface, and takes in a view of 780 miles from edge to edge.
Zooming in on the photo gives a true fly-by perspective on the planet, including a closer look at 11,000-foot mountains likely made of frozen nitrogen:
"This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself,” said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute. “But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains.”
Though the above photo was taken in mid-July, NASA didn't fully download it from the probe until Sept. 13. As ABC News points out, New Horizons will take a full year to transmit all of the data it collected back to Earth.
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