The latest images from NASA’s New Horizons unmanned spacecraft reveal breathtaking views of Pluto’s majestic icy mountains, streams of frozen nitrogen and haunting low-lying hazes and a "strangely familiar, arctic look".

A Nasa spokesman said: "Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, New Horizons looked back toward the sun and captured this near-sunset view of the rugged, icy mountains and flat ice plains extending to Pluto’s horizon."

The smooth expanse of the informally named icy plain Sputnik Planum is flanked to the west by rugged mountains up to 11,000 feet high, including the informally named Norgay Montes in the foreground and Hillary Montes on the skyline. 

East of Sputnik the rougher terrain is cut by what appear to be glaciers. 

The spokesman added: "The backlighting highlights over a dozen layers of haze in Pluto’s tenuous but distended atmosphere."

The picture was taken from 11,000 miles high and shows an area 780 miles.

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, said: "This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself.

“But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains.

"Pluto is surprisingly Earth-like in this regard,” added Stern, “and no one predicted it.”

Will Grundy, lead of the New Horizons Composition team from Lowell Observatory, Flagstaff, Arizona, said: "In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth." 

There also appears to be a remarkably Earth-like “hydrological” cycle on Pluto – but involving soft and exotic ices, including nitrogen, rather than water ice.

Sputnik Planum, the smooth, light-bulb shaped region, is a "brilliantly white" upland region that may be coated by nitrogen ice transported through the atmosphere.

The spokesman added: "Bright areas east of the vast icy plain informally named Sputnik Planum appear to have been blanketed by these ices, which may have evaporated from the surface of Sputnik and then been redeposited to the east. 

 The new Ralph imager panorama also reveals glaciers flowing back into Sputnik Planum from this blanketed region.

"These features are similar to the frozen streams on the margins of ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica."

Alan Howard, a member of the mission’s Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, said: "We did not expect to find hints of a nitrogen-based glacial cycle on Pluto operating in the frigid conditions of the outer solar system.

"This would be directly comparable to the hydrological cycle that feeds ice caps on Earth, where water is evaporated from the oceans, falls as snow, and returns to the seas through glacial flow.

Courtesy Express