Although there are craters visible on Charon’s surface, there are not almost as many as scientists had thought, and that suggests that Charon has been geologically active in the relatively recent past. Given the commonplace nature of asteroid and comet impacts throughout the solar system and the presumed age of Pluto – more than 4 billion years – the lack of craters suggests that it must be geologically active.
Chief scientist Alan Stern said the new images showed evidence of geological activity and mountains in the Pluto system.
“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the Solar System”, said New Horizons team member Dr Jeff Moore of NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Prof Hawking said on Facebook: “I would like to congratulate the New Horizons team and Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) for their historic fly-by of Pluto”. The New Horizons spacecraft is Pluto’s first visitor in its 4.5 billion-year existence.
It’s a depression with a peak in the middle, and it looks to be about 50 kilometres across.
This picture was taken when the spacecraft was 478,000 miles from Pluto’s surface, about an hour and a half before it came closest to Pluto at 7,800 miles. Spectroscopic data from New Horizons’ Ralph instruments reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences among regions across the frozen surface of Pluto. New Horizons must have found the range of icy mountains prophetically described by H.P. Lovecraft in his 1931 masterpiece “At the Mountains of Madness”. They are likely composed of the planet’s bedrock layer of water ice, says mission scientist John Spencer.
The surface pictures reveal landscapes and even provide some insight into the dwarf planet’s history. 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 spacecraft also made observations of Pluto’s four other moons: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.
Scientists and the public are getting their first look at what NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft saw as it whirled past Pluto Tuesday morning. Johns Hopkins University’s Hal Weaver, project scientist for the New Horizons mission, said Wednesday during a news briefing here at JHU’s Applied Physics Laboratory.
Then, in a third press release dated July 15, NASA showed off the first image of Hydra ever captured.