New images sent by NASA’s New Horizons has shown the world what Pluto’s ice flowers look like and provided the scientific community with information that suggests the ex-planet could still be experiencing geological activity – it has glacier ice streams that break into crates and surround water-ice mountains.
What’s more, close-up images taken of the dark equatorial area revealed that there’s a crater-pocked landscape sitting within the Cthulhu Regio, adding to Pluto’s unexpected complexity.
The most interesting finding is probably that the dwarf planet is a fascinating mix of new and old, with William McKinnon, planetary geophysicist from Washington University (St. Louis) and member of New Horizons’ science team, giving a statement informing that while some parts of Pluto show present day geological activity, other are fundamentally ancient.
Dr. Alan Stern, lead scientist on the mission and member of the Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, Colo), gave a statement of his own, agreeing with McKinnon. He said that “Pluto has a very complicated story to tell” and that researchers have a lot of work to do before they can “understand this very complicated place”.
Field experts expect to reveal many other fascinating findings in the near future as so far they have only received about four or five percent (4% or 5%) of the data gathered by the spacecraft’s seven (7) instruments.
Most of the data that researchers will receive from now until mid-September will be related to engineering information, however an ocean of scientific data will flood researchers for about a year after the spacecraft has finished sending the engineering information.
Dr. Stern also revealed that a lot of the information he and his team received was related to Pluto’s big heart, informally dubbed “Tombaugh Regio” by the New Horizons science team, and that the dwarf planet’s west and east lobes are extremely different from one another.
The ice deposits that form on the eastern lobe and the ones that seem to be flowing out of the area’s southern tip, look a lot thinner than the ones on the western lobe. This indicates that the latter lobe is responsible for the icy veneer that’s covering the geological features found at the east and at the south.
The western lobe, dubbed “Sputnik Planum”, is about the size of Texas and hosts the polygon-shaped patches of ice that resemble garden pavers. The area’s smooth appearance (the absence of impact craters) has led the research team to determine that “this is a really a young unit” that’s only a few tens of millions of years old.
However, these features look like they’re floating scraps at the southern and northern boundaries. These areas also host nitrogen ice streams that are flowing up, and in one particular location heading straight into an ancient crater.
Michael Summers, researcher from George Mason University (Fairfax, Va.), gave a statement explaining that the data from New Horizons is forcing experts to look at Pluto’s atmosphere differently as the dwarf planet’s weather shows up in layers of haze, one roughly 30 miles above its surface, and the other one roughly 50 miles above its surface.
Image Source: guim.co.uk