The images were collected as New Horizons swept within 7,700 miles of Pluto on Tuesday, becoming Pluto’s first visitor in its 4.5 billion-year existence.
Of the images NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has so far beamed back to Earth, one shows a budding mountain range towering over Pluto’s surface at a top height of about 11,000 feet (3,500 meters). This suggests that Pluto may be younger than scientists initially believed and that a lot of geological activity has recently smoothed its surface, according to The Washington Post.
“The more and more we learn about other planets, the more we understand about our own”.
New Horizons also captured images of Pluto’s moon Charon, which also provided some surprises for the researchers, including a giant chasm four to six miles deep and regions displaying evidence of active resurfacing of the kind seen on Pluto.
Paul Jerram, chief engineer of Image Sensor at e2v, explains: ‘Ralph is highly bespoke, in fact it is seven different CCDs (charged-coupled devices) made on the same substrate, providing a complete focal plane within a single sensor.
The mission’s principal investigator, Alan Stern, said the heart-shaped region, the brightest part of the dwarf planet, had been named “Tombaugh Reggio”, after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the planet in 1930.
What is most surprising, as the image shows, is how unmarked by meteorite impacts Pluto is.
The spacecraft sped past the dwarf planet on Tuesday, getting as close as 12,500km and grabbing a huge volume of data.
Instead, New Horizons revealed that the surface of Pluto has somehow been refreshed, activity that may be tied to an underground ocean, ice volcanoes or other geologic phenomenon that gives off heat.
Finally, there’s Charon – Pluto’s moon.
The first batch of observations from New Horizons’ close brush with the Pluto system was sent down Wednesday morning, and planetary scientists are still poring over the data.
NASA has released a closeup image of Pluto’s largest moon Charon, the latest picture from the New Horizons spacecraft’s historic flyby of the dwarf planet this week.
NASA was releasing images from the New Horizons mission at a Wednesday news conference.
Another puzzling fact about Pluto is the presence of towering mountains on its surface. Spectroscopic data from New Horizons’ Ralph instruments reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences among regions across the frozen surface of Pluto.