Today, NASA's New Horizons passed by Pluto a full three billion miles away, taking clearer pictures of the dwarf planet than we've ever captured before.
This GIF demonstrates the difference between previous images of Pluto taken by the Hubble telescope and a just-released New Horizons snapshot taken when the craft was still almost a half-million miles away. The new image reveals that Pluto is the same dusty red as Mars, and also shows several observable geographic features on Pluto's surface, including a bright patch shaped like a heart.
A 2013 piece by blogger Emily Lakdawalla explains why the Hubble could only take extremely fuzzy pictures of Pluto, while being able to take clear, gorgeous images of galaxies much farther away. Lakdawalla mathematically demonstrates how much more space galaxies take up in the sky than a tiny dwarf planet. "Galaxies are far away, it's true, but many of them are bigger than they are far, at least by comparison to the worlds within our solar system," Lakdawalla writes.
New Horizons investigator Alan Stern says the new images are 1,000 times clearer than those we could take with the Hubble, and even clearer images taken from the moment of the flyby are expected to be released later tonight.