New horizons is already 1.6 million kilometres past Pluto after yesterday’s fly-by and it’s in good shape. Since Pluto does not receive any heat from a host planet or another satellite, NASA will seek an explanation for how the distant dwarf planet remains geologically active.
“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system“, said Jeff Moore at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
Geological activity is common on icy worlds similar to Pluto, such as the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.
The photos collected on the NASA probe’s flyby of Pluto are only a fraction of whats to come over the next six months as New Horizons ‘ transmits as it flies’ deeper into the Kuiper Belt. They’re organized from those closest to the sun (Mercury) to the outer bodies like Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto. Scientists are actually surprised at the apparent lack of craters.
They were beamed back along with a number of important images of neighbours Pluto and Charon this morning.
‘We have not found a single impact crater on this image.
Another puzzling fact about Pluto is the presence of towering mountains on its surface.
The results are the first since the piano-sized spacecraft capped a 4.82-billion km, nine-and-a-half-year-long journey to pass within 12,550 km of Pluto on Tuesday. Some of the first photographs are revealing unbelievable things about the solar system’s most distant celestial body. In addition, NASA said one of Pluto’s smaller moons, Hydra, is likely covered with “water ice”.
New Horizons also observed the smaller members of the Pluto system, which includes four other moons: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.
NASA plans to hold another briefing on Pluto and the New Horizons mission tomorrow, at 1pm EDT, where it will release new images from the probe as well as discuss more of the implications of the science.
The surface pictures reveal landscapes and even provide some insight into the dwarf planet’s history. Charon was also relatively close and New Horizons has taken full advantage of the opportunity to view Charon in greater detail as well.
It is the fastest spacecraft ever launched – hurtling through the Pluto system at more than 30,000 miles per hour. “We’re seeing so many different features… there’s nothing like it”, New Horizons scientist Cathy Olkin told the press.