NASA’s New Horizons Reveals Exciting New Pluto Images
New Features Spotted on Pluto Leave Researchers Puzzled
NASA’s New Horizons team started a year-long download of images from the spacecraft over this past Labor Day weekend, returning to find incredible new details along the surface of the dwarf planet.
These new images have left researchers quite puzzled about the planet’s mysterious topology. According to a press release, “Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. “If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”
The highest resolution images are estimated to capture about 440 yards per pixel.
According to NASA, “They reveal new features as diverse as possible dunes, nitrogen ice flows that apparently oozed out of mountainous regions onto plains, and even networks of valleys that may have been carved by material flowing over Pluto’s surface. They also show large regions that display chaotically jumbled mountains reminiscent of disrupted terrains on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.”
The dwarf planet has also been compared to Mars in its complexity and diversity of terrain.
“The randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of hard water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen within the region informally named Sputnik Planum,” noted Jeff Moore, Horizons leader of Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team at the Ames Research institute.
The team also addresses what now appear to be dunes (yes dunes) on Pluto.
“Seeing dunes on Pluto — if that is what they are — would be completely wild, because Pluto’s atmosphere today is so thin,” according to William B. McKinnon, a GGI deputy lead from Washington University, St. Louis. “Either Pluto had a thicker atmosphere in the past, or some process we haven’t figured out is at work. It’s a head-scratcher.”
It has been 58 days since the Pluto flyby and 3521 days since the launch of the mission on January 19th, 2006. Since then the New Horizons spacecraft has traversed over 3 billion miles in space from Earth, and more than 43 million miles beyond Pluto.
You can check out more of the discussion and the mission’s high resolution images here.
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