New Horizons has been hard at work taking high-resolution photos of Pluto — a dwarf planet we’ve never really been able to see in detail — but the newest point of interest spotted is helping scientists understand the geological make-up of the dwarf planet. Namely, a second mountain range with peaks that rival those of the Appalachian Mountains back here at home.
New Horizons Discovers Pluto Has a Heart of Ice
The newly discovered mountain range is located on Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio (also known as the “heart” of Pluto), which is located in the southwest portion of the dwarf planet. The mile-high mountain range sits between a patch of icy, flat terrain that has been named Sputnik Planum.
Initial pictures New Horizons captured of Pluto gave scientists the impression that the glowing “heart” was a single entity, but newer photos are beginning to come back showing that there are two patches of ice: the Sputnik Planum, which is a patch of land less than 100 million years old, and a darker area that is billions of years old.
Pluto is Rich in Geological Diversity
Even with all of the new photos New Horizons has taken, scientists still have very much to learn about Pluto. The discovery of this new mountain range shows just how diverse a planet of ice can really be.
In the newest image, we can see how a very dark surface riddled with the marks of craters. This is the surface of the planet that is billions of years old. The Sputnik Planums; however, are very smooth and suggests that this area is significantly younger.
“There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand,” said Jeff Moore, who heads the geology, geophysics, and imaging team on New Horizons.
Discovering Pluto’s Moons
New Horizons also managed to snap a few pictures of two of Pluto’s five moons using its high resolution camera, Lorri. In the highest resolution picture to date, scientists can see that the satellite moon, Hydra, has two large craters, and its top half appears to be darker than its bottom. This indicates that, like Pluto, its surface make-up may also be varied.
A new photo of Nix was also captured with boosted color representation, which helped scientists identify surface features they haven’t been able to view yet. The only notable feature found was a reddish spot that scientists believe to be a crater.
More data has been taken of Nix but hasn’t been downlinked yet, so keep your eyes peeled for more images from New Horizons soon. Story to follow.
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