NASA held a media briefing a short while ago. During it, they stunned the world with incredible images of Pluto and Charon.
Below is the first high-resolution frame showing Pluto’s surface.
See the mountains in the top middle and top right? They soar up to 11,000 feet above Pluto’s surface. But, it’s what we don’t see that’s even more stunning. No impact craters. The lack of any craters on this part of the surface tells us it’s very young, in cosmic terms. According to NASA officials, it’s less than 100 million years old.
The implications are extraordinary. Pluto may still be geologically active.
“We have not yet found a single impact crater on this image,” says New Horizons team member John Spencer. “Pluto has been bombarded by other objects in the Kuiper Belt. Craters happen. We think it probably has to be less than 100 million years old—it might be active right now.”
Pluto’s surface also varies quite a bit.
Large, dark patches dominate the left and bottom portions of the image released yesterday. The famous bright heart in the middle? The team is now informally calling it Tombaugh Regio, after the man who discovered Pluto – Clyde Tombaugh.
Scientists have only been studying the latest data for a couple of hours. Imagine what they will tell us in the coming days and months.
Pluto’s up close stole the show, but Charon was incredible in its own right. Check out the high-res image released about an hour ago.
“It’s a small world with deep canyons, troughs, cliffs, dark regions that are still slightly mysterious to us,” said deputy project scientist Cathy Olkin. “There is so much interesting science going on in this image alone.”
The dark spot at the north pole? The New Horizons team have dubbed it Mordor. It could be made up of materials escaping from Pluto.
Charon’s deep canyons are hard to miss. Look at the notch in the top right corner. You’re looking through a canyon into space that is four to six miles deep.
Charon’s image also indicates it could be an active world.
We also got our first look at Hydra, one of Pluto’s other moons. It’s a pixelated image, but it does answer some questions about the small moon.
It’s 28 miles wide and 19 miles tall and is likely made up of water ice.
Today is a historic day for space exploration. We are learning so much about the Pluto system, and that knowledge will only grow in the days, weeks and years ahead.
Image credits: NASA
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