Highest-Res Pluto Images Reveal A Complex, Beautiful World

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how difficult it can be to focus on science when the world is tearing itself apart. As this latest terrible chapter is being written into the already overwhelming history of violence on Earth, I worry I might find myself seeking solace from that post’s optimism more often than I want to.

In it, a friend reminded me that tales of science and adventure can be powerful antidotes to stories of suffering and destruction. Exploring new worlds and uncovering new knowledge? “That’s what we should be doing,” Kareem Shaheen, who covers the Middle East for the Guardian, told me.

And so today, when NASA revealed the newest images of Pluto taken by the New Horizons spacecraft, I switched off everything and dove into the intricate, exotic landscapes of an alien world. These are the highest resolution images of Pluto we might see in our lifetimes — images where features smaller than a football stadium are visible. In them, we see jumbled blocks of ice-mountains that look as though they’re being pushed to the shoreline of a frozen sea that’s bubbling in slow motion. Impacts that excavated chunks of Pluto’s surface reveal curiously colored layers beneath its crust. There are pits and ridges that look as though they’ve been stretched and bent as Pluto’s ices move across its surface, areas where erosion has sculpted some intricate landscapes, and things I’m having a hard time even describing.

There’s no question that exploring this distant, icy world is a story about the human mind and spirit at its best; so give yourself a break and zoom over these Plutoscapes.