Latest New Horizons images put Pluto’s icy geology in spotlight

Chris Davies - Jul 16, 2015, 1:57pm CDT
Latest New Horizons images put Pluto’s icy geology in spotlight

The fruits of New Horizons’ trip to Pluto continue to emerge, with the latest photos showing fresh mountain peaks and raising new questions for scientists. In the latest batch of images beamed back from the spacecraft, NASA has identified an unusual depression running across Charon, one of Pluto’s moons, slashing across the rock with a length of around 240 miles and complete with a central peak. However, it’s not the only geological anomaly New Horizons has spotted.

The Charon photo, above, was snapped when New Horizons was just 49,000 miles away, back on July 14th when the probe was around 90 minutes from its closest pass by Pluto.

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It’s been quite a journey, too, and one which dates back many decades before New Horizons blasted off. The animation above, for instance, starts with Clyde Tombaugh’s original discovery of Pluto from 1930.

On Pluto itself, the hitherto-unseen close up images have unlocked fresh questions about just what has shaped the former-planet.

One shot of Pluto’s equatorial region, for instance, shows what appears to be a mountain range with peaks as much as 11,000 feet high. Since scientists believe Pluto’s mountains only formed less than 100 million years ago, that could mean it’s all still geologically active.

In fact, “this is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” Jeff Moore, part of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center, said of the findings.

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Exactly what’s causing that activity is the next big question, since scientists can’t put it down to a larger planet causing icy Pluto to heat up. That could have an impact on how we understand other ice bodies elsewhere in the universe.

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.

SOURCE NASA


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