New close-up images from NASA’s New Horizon spacecraft have found evidence of ice flowing and extended haze across Pluto’s surface, Which reveals Pluto to be an icy world of wonders.
NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfeld said, “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.”
He also added, “With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling.”
After reaching to a closest point, the spacecraft aimed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) back at Pluto, capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles(130 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface.
Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute(SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado said, “My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt. It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries, it brings incredible beauty.”
The images from LORRI is the evidence of exotic ices flowing across Pluto’s surface and revealing signs of recent geologic activity, something scientists hoped to find but didn’t expect.
Similar to glaciers on Earth, a sheet of ice clearly appears to have flowed or may be still flowing. The new fascinating detailed images from the spacecraft informally named as Sputnik Planum, which lies within the western half of Pluto’s heart-shaped feature, known as Tombaugh Regio.
“We’ve only seen surfaces like this on active worlds like Earth and Mars,” said mission co-investigator John Spencer of SwRI. “I’m really smiling.”
New data from New Horizon’s Ralph instrument indicate the center of Sputnik Planum is rich in Nitrogen, Carbon monoxide, and Methane ices.
Take a look at simulated flyover using New Horizons’ close-approach images of Sputnik Planum and Pluto’s newly-discovered mountain range: