Pluto is even weirder than we first thought
NASA’s New Horizon probe was a big hit. The little probe that could succeeded in its flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto, and continued on its way to the Kuiper Belt and the poorly named object 2014 MU69. It will likely be remembered for its time with Pluto though.
The probe was the first to give us a close up view of the dwarf planet, and it gathered a lot of information – so much that it will take months to send it all back to Earth. The probe just began transmitting the bulk of its data back over Labor Day, and the results are delightfully confusing.
“If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there,” New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern said in a NASA press release.
The images show a range of surface features that are far more varied than most thought possible. New Horizon’s data dump will take around a year, but the images revealed over the last week have doubled the amount of surface we have seen before (at least at this level of resolution and clarity).
“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” Stern said.
The images show a surface with dunes and nitrogen ice flows. There are jumbled mountains similar to those on Europa, and valleys that seem to have been carved by flowing materials long, long ago.
“The surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars,” New Horizon’s geology and geophysics leader Jeff Moore said. “The randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of hard water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen within the region informally named Sputnik Planum.”
The images also revealed that Pluto’s atmosphere is more layered than initially thought, which would create a twilight on the dwarf planet for anyone standing on the surface.
The probe also captured a sizable amount of data on Pluto’s moons: Charon (seen on the right), Nix, and Hydra, with more are on the way.
Expect countless images in the coming months.