With a surface allegedly covered in nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide, one of Pluto’s more interesting features is that of 11,000-foot high mountains made of icy bedrock. The lack of any craters on it has surprised the NASA team. He marveled: “I think the whole system is wonderful”. A few months later, astronomers downgraded it, controversially, to dwarf planet – a not un-reasonable move, given the recent discovery of other small planetoids in the so-called Kuiper belt of debris that exists in what we now refer to as “trans-Neptunian space”.
The team has also named the prominent heart-shaped region on Pluto after the world’s discoverer Clyde Tombaugh.
Planetary Society: First look at New Horizons’ Pluto and Charon images: “baffling in a very interesting and wonderful way” – “Those mountains are something else”. And it is most certainly not frozen in time.
The young mountains might suggest that Pluto’s surface is still active, and changing, now. Pluto itself is 4.5 billion years old.
Before the mission, scientists had no idea about Hydra’s size or dimensions, project scientist Hal Weaver said. “It’s just blowing my mind”. Some of the first photographs are revealing wonderful things about the solar system’s most distant celestial body.
Cathy Olkin, from the Southwest Research Institute, said its surface was surprisingly youthful, reshaped by geological activity.
“The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon”.
As the scientists pored over their new data, the plutonium-powered probe continued to speed ever farther away from Pluto. The United States is now the only nation to visit every single planet in the solar system. Previously, such activity has only been seen on icy moons, where it can be explained by “tidal heating” caused by gravitational interactions with a large host planet.
The image taken on late July 13, 2015, shows swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from left to right, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely a result of internal processes.
NASA also hinted that there would be more close-up images of Pluto and Charon to come via the New Horizons probe.
The Charon photo was taken Monday.
“As Pluto orbits the sun, it gets closer to it on some parts of its orbit“, Bray said. New Horizons swept to within 7,700 miles (12,391 kilometers) of Pluto during its flyby.
New Horizons, a $700 million nuclear-powered spacecraft, spent much of Tuesday snapping pictures and collecting data as it zoomed by Pluto.
Closeup image of an area on Pluto’s largest moon Charon.
New images of Pluto are expected to be released Friday.