NASA’S NEW HORIZONS UNCOVERS FLOWING ICE AND A VAST HAZE ON PLUTO
The latest discovery of NASA’s New Horizons mission reveals that Pluto is host to flowing ice that have similarities to glaciers on active worlds such as Earth and Mars.
“We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now — 10 days after closest approach — we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed,” said NASA’s associate administrator John Grunsfeld in a prepared statement. “With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling."
Images captured with New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) revealed signs of recent geologic activity on the Texas-sized plain called Sputnik Planum. Located on the western half of the Pluto's heart-shaped feature, an ice sheet within the plain appears to have flowed similar to glaciers on Earth and it may still be flowing.
“At Pluto’s temperatures of minus-390 degrees Fahrenheit, these ices can flow like a glacier,” said Bill McKinnon, deputy leader of the New Horizons Geology. “In the southernmost region of the heart, adjacent to the dark equatorial region, it appears that ancient, heavily-cratered terrain has been invaded by much newer icy deposits.”
The images also revealed hazes up to 80 miles (130 km) above Pluto’s surface. The atmosphere consists of two layers, one roughly 50 miles (80 km) above the surface and the other at 30 miles (50 km).
“My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons. “It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries — it brings incredible beauty.”
“The hazes detected in this image are a key element in creating the complex hydrocarbon compounds that give Pluto’s surface its reddish hue,” said New Horizons co-investigator Michael Summers.
NASA also released a video of a simulated flyover using New Horizons’ images of Sputnik Planum and recently-discovered mountain range Hillary Montes.