Spencer called it “just astonishing” that the first close-up picture of Pluto didnt have a single impact crater on it. Stern noted that the findings suggesting a geologically active interior are going to “send a lot of geophysicists back to the drawing boards.”.

The mountains’ elevation reaches 11,000 feet (3,400 meters), the USA space agency said, or about as high as the Rocky Mountains.

The scientists believe that these mountains formed more than 100 million years ago, but are still very young in comparison to the 4.56-billion-year-old solar system.

While the Hubble telescope orbiting Earth has been able to deliver grainy images, New Horizons photographed Pluto at such a fine level that features the size of a football pitch will be visible.

And just to see how far we have come, check out this gif from NASA about how our perspective of Pluto has changed through the decades until the present day.

“Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations”, he added.

In the latest batch of images beamed back from the spacecraft, NASA has identified an unusual depression running across Charon, one of Pluto’s moons, slashing across the rock with a length of around 240 miles and complete with a central peak.

The New Horizons team expected to find a cold, dead, and cratered satellite of Pluto.

Among the many surprises New Horizons has already provided, the pictures displayed a giant range of mountains made of water ice, as well as evidence that geological activity is still taking place on Pluto’s surface.

New Horizons’ array of instruments also managed to discover that Pluto contains a significant amount of methane within its icy surface. Some geological process must be refreshing its surface. Instead of the moon orbiting around the dwarf planet, Charon and Pluto orbit around a center of gravity between the two bodies.

Of course, such challenging discoveries are ultimately the goal of New Horizons and other space exploration missions.

The new image was taken about 90 minutes before the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto on Tuesday and shows a 240-mile-long strip across the moon’s surface.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland designed, built and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.