NASA Announces Top Ten Pluto Discoveries from New Horizons Mission

Thursday, 14 July 2016 - 4:12PM
Space
Solar System
Thursday, 14 July 2016 - 4:12PM
NASA Announces Top Ten Pluto Discoveries from New Horizons Mission
One year ago today, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto, giving us a groundbreaking, detailed look at its surface and completing a science mission that told us more about the dwarf planet than we ever thought possible. Now, to celebrate that landmark achievement, NASA has released their picks for the top ten discoveries we've made about Pluto since New Horizons took its historic journey. 
Opening quote
"New Horizons not only completed the era of first reconnaissance of the planets, the mission has intrigued and inspired. Who knew that Pluto would have a heart?" said NASA's Director of Planetary Science Jim Green. "Even today, New Horizons captures our imagination, rekindles our curiosity, and reminds us of what's possible."
Closing quote

Among the most important discoveries NASA has made about Pluto are its blue atmosphere, which was captured when we snapped a picture of its occultation, as well as a whole host of discoveries about that exotic atmosphere, like the atmospheric haze and flowing ice. There's also evidence of past lakes and rivers of liquid nitrogen, and possibly even a current subsurface ocean of liquid water. And, of course, there's the affectionately dubbed "Heart of Pluto," or the Sputnik Planum, a large plain composed mostly of nitrogen ice that extends 1000 kilometers wide.

Here's the full list: 
Opening quote

  1. The complexity of Pluto and its satellites is far beyond what we expected.
  2. The degree of current activity on Pluto's surface and the youth of some surfaces on Pluto are simply astounding.
  3. Pluto's atmospheric hazes and lower-than-predicted atmospheric escape rate upended all of the pre-flyby models.
  4. Charon's enormous equatorial extensional tectonic belt hints at the freezing of a former water ice ocean inside Charon in the distant past. Other evidence found by New Horizons indicates Pluto could well have an internal water-ice ocean today.
  5. All of Pluto's moons that can be age-dated by surface craters have the same, ancient age-adding weight to the theory that they were formed together in a single collision between Pluto and another planet in the Kuiper Belt long ago.
  6. Charon's dark, red polar cap is unprecedented in the solar system and may be the result of atmospheric gases that escaped Pluto and then accreted on Charon's surface.
  7. Pluto's vast 1,000-kilometer-wide heart-shaped nitrogen glacier (informally called Sputnik Planum) that New Horizons discovered is the largest known glacier in the solar system.
  8. Pluto shows evidence of vast changes in atmospheric pressure and, possibly, past presence of running or standing liquid volatiles on its surface – something only seen elsewhere on Earth, Mars and Saturn's moon Titan in our solar system.
  9. The lack of additional Pluto satellites beyond what was discovered before New Horizons was unexpected.
  10. Pluto's atmosphere is blue. Who knew?
Closing quote
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NASA
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Solar System

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