Photos courtesy A. Stern (SwRI), M. Buie
Observatory), NASA, ESA
The Hubble Space Telescope snapped the top two images of Pluto in 1996.
Even Hubble's keen eyesight just barely resolves Pluto. Astronomers then
turned the images into maps, showing opposite hemispheres of Pluto. The
maps, shown at the bottom, reveal some of the light and dark patches
on Pluto’s surface.
Pluto is a challenging telescope target because it is so tiny and so
far away. It is only two-thirds the size of Earth's Moon, but 1,200
times farther away. These observations were made when Pluto was 3 billion
miles from Earth. They represent our best views of Pluto. The New Horizons
spacecraft will give astronomers close-up views of the icy object,
revealing more information about this faraway world.