Get up close and personal with the surface of Pluto
Even though a bunch of astronomers took Pluto out back and beat the planetary status off of it a few years back, the dwarf planet is the belle of the ball right now. And as images continue to be beamed back, that status should remain in place for the next week or two, at least.
With the New Horizons spacecraft currently whizzing by Pluto, it is a constant reminder that humanity can be awesome – when we aren’t busy talking smack on Internet forums and arguing politics, of course. The probe spent nine years to travel 4.2 billion kilometers, a staggering accomplishment that we are already beginning to take for granted. It will send us a huge amount of information back over the course of the next 16 months, but for now it is giving us the first close look we’ve ever had of the former ninth planet.
Among a few of the many incredible images the probe has sent back, are some close up looks at the surface of the dwarf planet. In the clip below, NASA analyzed several of the images of Pluto’s surface, then created the animated video to give a sense of what it would like to fly over the surface of Pluto.
For those that have been keeping score at home, the focus is on the Norgay Montes and Sputnik Planum regions, an area of roughly 1,600 kilometers. The images were taken at a distance of 48,000 miles, and show us objects on the surface up to half-a-mile in size.
The mountains seen in the video also tell us a fair amount about Pluto. The rocky formations raise about 3,500 meters above the surface, which NASA believes means they were formed less than 100 million years ago, a relatively short period of time. To put it in perspective, the solar system is 4.65 billion years old. That means Pluto may still be geologically active beneath its icy surface.
Expect to see more from the Pluto and its five moons (especially Charon) in the next week or two. Then we will probably forget all about it, at least until the next impossibly cool thing comes along.