Releasing a tranche of new images, mission controllers also gave more information about crucial new data gathered during the spacecraft’s historic flight through the Pluto system on July 14.
Seeing Pluto up close and personal has certainly been one of the highlights of 2015, but as NASA noted earlier this month, the initial images were just the beginning.
After making its closest to the dwarf planet, the New Horizons has discovered another mountain range in the heart of Pluto.
Photo: Pluto’s largest moon Charon has a swath of cliffs and troughs which stretch about 1,000 kilometres from left to right, which suggests widespread fracturing of its crust.
“What we know about nitrogen ice, what we can estimate about the heat flow coming from the interior of Pluto, there’s no reason why this can’t be going on today”, McKinnon said.
After studying the fascinating images, Grunsfeld sad the team saw “flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges”, and a “diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling”. These become heavier and fall to the lower and colder parts of the atmosphere, condense into ice particles which then creates the haze.
In case you were wondering, the infographic is based on New Horizons data concerning the actual size of dwarf planet Pluto.
NASA/JHUAPL/SwRIAccording to Michael Summers, who is the New Horizons co-investigator at George Mason, this haze likely generates hydrocarbon compounds that are responsible for Pluto’s red color. At Pluto’s frigid temperatures – about -235 °C, 38 degrees above absolute zero – water ice is too brittle to flow.
New high-resolution images of Pluto’s surface have revealed that nitrogen and other ices actually appear to flow across the surface of the dwarf planet the way glaciers move on Earth. “But to see evidence for recent geologic activity is simply a dream come true”, said New Horizons scientist William McKinnon, with Washington University in St. Louis. Scientists suspect the atmosphere could be freezing out as Pluto careens back out into the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto.
Patterns of light and dark on Pluto’s surface appear to signal flowing nitrogen ice. “Starting in September, that’s when the spigot opens again”, said mission leader Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute.
The Norgay Mountains discovered by New Horizons on July 15 more closely approximate the height of the taller Rocky Mountains.
“There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand”, said Moore.