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The Whale and the Donut
Release Date: July 7, 2015
This map of Pluto, created from images taken from June 27-July 3, 2015, by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons, was combined with lower-resolution color data from the spacecraft's Ralph instrument. The center of the map corresponds to the side of Pluto that will be seen close-up during New Horizons' July 14 flyby.
This map gives mission scientists an important tool to decipher the complex and intriguing pattern of bright and dark markings on Pluto's surface. Features from all sides of Pluto can now be seen at a glance and from a consistent perspective, making it much easier to compare their shapes and sizes.
The elongated dark area informally known as "the whale," along the equator on the left side of the map, is one of the darkest regions visible to New Horizons. It measures some 1,860 miles (3,000 kilometers) in length. Directly to the right of the whale’s "snout" is the brightest region visible on the planet, which is roughly 990 miles (1,600 kilometers) across. This may be a region where relatively fresh deposits of frost—perhaps including frozen methane, nitrogen and/or carbon monoxide—form a bright coating.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute