Planet envy | – The Buzz

The plains are the mountains’ neighbors to the north. The peaks are now known, informally at least, as the Norgay Montes.


On the edge… Pluto and Charon display striking colour and brightness contrast in this composite image.

A simulated video taken by LORRI reveals frozen mountain ranges and plains. “We explore because we are human and we long to know”.

It’s provided plenty of surprises. “This is a feature that has geologists stunned and stumped”.

Although many asteroids are composed primarily of rock and metal, most Kuiper belt objects are composed largely of frozen volatiles (termed “ices”), such as methane, ammonia and water. It just took us a while to figure it out. Is it tectonically active, with shifting crustal plates like Earth?

New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

“We had no idea that Pluto would have a geologically young surface“, said lead researcher Alan Stern, with the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. As an inevitable result, Prof Mike Brown, who was instrumental in discovering new dwarf planets – and in demotion too – was dubbed Pluto Killer by Pluto fans.

The spacecraft got as close as 7,750 miles (12,470 kilometers) to Pluto.

The plains – which include clusters of smooth hills and fields of small pits – are covered with irregular-shaped sections that look to be separated by troughs.

New Horizons is now speeding into the Kuiper belt, which extends a couple of billion kilometres beyond Pluto and likely contains billions of icy worlds.

The mountains of Pluto. But according to these first photos, cold with ice, not stone.

The closest view of Pluto also revealed icy mountains of around 11,000 feet, or about as high as California’s Mammoth Mountain. Tenzing Norgay was the Sherpa guide for Sir Edmund Hillary when they conquered Mount Everest in 1953. Latest data delivered by NASA’s New Horizons probe puts its diameter at 1,473 miles (2,370 kilometers). The “tail” is made up of nitrogen that is escaping the atmosphere of Pluto at a rate of 500 tons per hour.

Surface temperatures on the dwarf planet reach 400 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-240C).

Pluto loyalists, however, have since been fighting for the restoration of its status; they involve people from all walks of life, including well-known astronomers.

Answers could throw light on how the solar system was formed.

Besides Charon, Pluto has four other small moons: Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra.

At the moment, there’s no talk of yet another reclassification for this unusual couple. It is fitting that this encounter is happening 50 years after the Mariner probe’s historic Mars flyby.

Pluto was never a planet. It also seems to have a bright polar cap, like on Earth. It’s big. It’s red.

“We don’t know which of those two explanations are correct”, Moore said. And this is nowhere near the end for the New Horizons team. “New Horizons is flying into the unknown”. It was launched way back in 2006 after all.

Pluto, while still one of the “major” planets in those days (the distinction hadn’t even been made yet), was skipped, for various reasons. I hope to see it more clearly as the data come in.


Little more than one gigabit has been delivered. “I mean the landscape is just astoundingly wonderful”, Moore said.

1979 painting of Pluto turns out to be eerily accurate -