Icy mountains on Pluto and a new, crisp view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries announced.
“We’ll learn a huge amount about what makes Pluto tick – from its seasonal atmosphere to the snow or frost that contributes to it being so reflective”, he said.
A new close-up image of a region near Pluto’s equator reveals a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 3,500 metres above the surface of the icy body, in a picture released by NASA. The spacecraft had stopped transmitting to mission control as it had turned its antennas towards the dwarf planet to gather data during yesterday’s flyby.
“This is one of the youngest surfaces we have ever seen in the solar system“, said Jeff Moore from NASA’s Ames Research Centre in Moffett Field, California.
“We thought that Pluto was going to be a frozen rock”, Tish Bresee, an educator at the Kopernik Observatory and NASA Solar System Ambassador, said. Still, astronomers think the mountain range was not birthed by either of these materials but by water ice, the only one strong enough to be able to create peaks.
The clearest photos ever taken of Pluto reveal a planet that has surprised scientists in a number of ways and overturned some long-held theories about the cold planet and its moons.
The moon also has a massive canyon some four to six miles deep on it that resembles features seen on Uranus’ moons, as well as Saturn’s moon Tethys.
The other members of the Pluto system, i.e. Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos, were observed as well, albeit not quite as detailed as the dwarf planet and Charon.
New Horizons is collecting so much data it will take 16 months to send it all back to Earth.
The images are the first to emerge from a probe after a pass within 12,550 kilometers of Pluto on Tuesday.
Pluto’s geologic activity has also surprised scientists because, unlike other bodies in the solar system, Pluto can not be heated by other planets.
New Horizons traveled more than three billion miles over nine-and-a-half years to reach the Pluto. This means the technology harbored by the spacecraft, which is said to be the size of a baby grand piano, is at least a decade old.
“Charon just blew our socks off when we had the new image today”, said deputy project scientist Cathy Olkin. “I know today we have inspired a whole new generation of explorers”, said the former astronaut.