Pluto’s surface diversity stunned scientists and the world when the first images were beamed back to Earth. The impressive mountain range seen in the first image now has company.
NASA released a fresh image showing a newly discovered mountain range. This mountain range isn’t as impressive as the first, but it’s still pretty damn cool. The mountain range is located along the southwestern part of Pluto’s most prominent feature – Tombaugh Regio.
The second set of icy mountains rise a half-mile to one mile into the sky. A similar mountain range closer to home would be the Appalachian Mountains in the United States.
The biggest difference between this area and the first image we saw is age. Note the craters on the left half of the image. The New Horizons team believes the darker area dates back billions of years.
“There is a pronounced difference in texture between the younger, frozen plains to the east and the dark, heavily-cratered terrain to the west,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team. “There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand.”
New Horizons is already millions of miles past Pluto, but the mission for the New Horizons team is just beginning. These first images are just a brief glimpse of the science New Horizons has to deliver to Earth. It will take more than a year for the spacecraft to beam back all of its data from the close encounter with Pluto.
What forces are creating the young surfaces on Pluto? How are the mountains forming? These are just a couple of the questions New Horizons’ team hopes to answer in the coming months and years.
Better Images of Nix and Hydra
Pluto steals the show with its incredible mountain ranges and icy plains, but New Horizons also snapped images of Pluto’s smaller neighbors.
Yesterday, NASA released the first decent images of Pluto’s moons – Nix and Hydra.
Nix (left) immediately stands out. The overall surface color of Nix is neutral gray in the enhanced color picture, but that reddish spot really pops. What is it? Scientists are speculating that it’s a crater. As with all the discoveries made so far, scientists have to wait for additional data.
“This observation is so tantalizing, I’m finding it hard to be patient for more Nix data to be downlinked,” said mission scientist Carly Howett.
We also see Hydra in the image above. The top half of Hydra looks a bit darker than the bottom half and hints at a difference in surface composition. Mission scientists estimate Hydra is 34 miles long and 25 miles wide.
So far we’ve seen images of Pluto, Charon, Hydra and Nix. We should have images of Pluto’s last two moons, Styx and Kerberos, by mid-October.
Image credits: NASA