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New Pluto images reveal details of dwarf planet's surface and surroundings




Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet.
Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet.
NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet.
NASA: New Horizons views of the informally named Sputnik Planum on Pluto (top) and the informally named Vulcan Planum on Charon (bottom). Both scale bars measure 20 miles (32 kilometers) long; illumination is from the left in both instances. The Sputnik Planum view is centered at 11°N, 180°E, and covers the bright, icy, geologically cellular plains. Here, the cells are defined by a network of interconnected troughs that crisscross these nitrogen-ice plains. At right, in the upper image, the cellular plains yield to pitted plains of southern Sputnik Planum. This observation was obtained by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) at a resolution of 1,050 feet (320 meters) per pixel. The Vulcan Planum view in the bottom panel is centered at 4°S, 4°E, and includes the "moated mountain" Clarke Mons just above the center of the image. As well as featuring impact craters and sinuous troughs, the water ice-rich plains display a range of surface textures, from smooth and grooved at left, to pitted and hummocky at right. This observation was obtained by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at a resolution of 525 feet (160 meters) per pixel.
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet.
NASA: This image of haze layers above Pluto's limb was taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. About 20 haze layers are seen; the layers have been found to typically extend horizontally over hundreds of kilometers, but are not strictly parallel to the surface. For example, white arrows indicate a haze layer about three miles (five kilometers) above the surface on the left, which has descended to the surface at the right.
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/AAAS/Science
Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet.
NASA: This enhanced color view of Pluto's surface diversity was created by merging Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) color imagery (650 meters per pixel) with Long Range Reconnaissance Imager panchromatic imagery (230 meters per pixel). At lower right, ancient, heavily cratered terrain is coated with dark, reddish tholins. At upper right, volatile ices filling the informally named Sputnik Planum have modified the surface, creating a chaos-like array of blocky mountains. Volatile ice also occupies a few nearby deep craters, and in some areas the volatile ice is pocked with arrays of small sublimation pits. At left, and across the bottom of the scene, gray-white CH4 ice deposits modify tectonic ridges, the rims of craters, and north-facing slopes. The scene in this image is 260 miles (420 kilometers) wide and 140 miles (225 kilometers) from top to bottom; north is to the upper left.
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet.
NASA: A chain of snow-capped mountains stretches across the dark expanse on Pluto informally named Cthulhu (pronounced "k-thu-lu") Regio, which extends nearly halfway around Pluto's equator and is a little larger than Alaska. The enhanced color image shown as the left-hand inset reveals a mountain range in the southeast. The upper slopes of the highest peaks are coated with a bright material that contrasts sharply with the dark red color of the surrounding plains. Scientists think this bright material could be predominantly methane that has condensed as an ice onto the peaks from Pluto's atmosphere. That this material coats only the upper slopes of the peaks suggests methane ice may act like water in Earth's atmosphere, condensing as frost at high altitude.
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet.
NASA: Scientists on NASA's New Horizons mission have discovered what looks like a giant bite-mark on the planet's surface. Compositional data from the New Horizons spacecraft's Ralph/Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) instrument, shown in the right inset, indicate that the plateau uplands south of Piri Rupes are rich in methane ice (shown in false color as purple). Scientists speculate that sublimation of methane may be causing the plateau material to erode along the face of the scarp cliffs, causing them to retreat south and leave the plains of Piri Planitia in their wake. Compositional data also show that the surface of Piri Planitia is more enriched in water ice (shown in false color as blue) than the plateau uplands, which may indicate that Piri Planitia's surface is made of water ice bedrock, on top of which the layer of retreating methane ice had been sitting. Because the surface of Pluto is so cold, the water ice behaves like rock and is immobile. The light/dark mottled pattern of Piri Planitia in the left inset is reflected in the composition map, with the lighter areas corresponding to areas richer in methane – these may be remnants of methane that have not yet sublimated away entirely.
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft illustrates the incredible diversity of surface reflectivities and geological landforms on the dwarf planet.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on July 14, 2015.
NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI


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Pluto is most certainly having its moment.

When it was discovered back in 1930 it was considered the last planet in our solar system.  Then, ten years ago it got demoted, reclassified as a dwarf planet.

Last July, the New Horizons spacecraft whizzed past Pluto, and since then scientists have been poring over the data it collected.

And now, we're starting to get a much clearer picture of our distant neighbor, while maybe finding it's more mysterious than anyone imagined.

Take Two's A Martinez spoke with Emily Lakdawalla, Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist at the Planetary Society to find out more about why these reports have people so excited.

To hear the full conversation, click the blue player above