New Horizons returns stunning image of Pluto backlit by the Sun

A full view of Pluto’s stunning crescent. (credit: NASA)

One of the memorable images captured by the New Horizons spacecraft during its flyby of Pluto this summer was a partial crescent of the dwarf planet backlit by the Sun. Now the mission’s science team has processed the entire image to reveal a stunning full view of Pluto.

New Horizons snapped this picture just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, when the spacecraft had already moved 18,000 km beyond the tiny planet. The silhouetted view of Pluto reveals both the hazy layers of its thin nitrogen atmosphere, which extends nearly 1,600km above the surface of the world, as well as the rugged nature of its varied terrain.

NASA released the image after it announced the spacecraft has now moved 127 million km beyond Pluto and completed a third successful maneuver in its effort to reach a Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69. If all goes well, New Horizons will meet up with this distant, small 45km target on New Year’s Day, 2019.

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