New Horizons Sends Back Stunning Images of Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto

Friday, 17 July 2015 - 4:00PM
NASA
Astronomy
Space Imagery
Friday, 17 July 2015 - 4:00PM
New Horizons Sends Back Stunning Images of Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto
With New Horizons sending a steady stream of data back to Earth from its historic flyby, we're learning more than ever before about the mysterious dwarf planet. But the most charming discovery from the initial photographs was the heart-shaped feature on its surface, although scientists didn't know exactly what it was. Yesterday, NASA discovered that it's covered in water ice mountains, but now new, beautiful photographs have given us more insight into the smoother terrain.

First, the New Horizons Ralph instrument peered into the heart's "Tombaugh region," named after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930. It revealed that the smooth terrain north of the icy mountains is full of carbon monoxide ice, the concentration of which increases near the center of the "bulls-eye":

New Horizons Sends Back Stunning Images of Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto

And this breathtaking close-up photograph of the surface of the Tombaugh region is affectionately known as the "heart of the heart" photograph, and reveals a vast, frozen, craterless plain:

New Horizons Sends Back Stunning Images of Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto

The plain has been informally named the "Sputnik Planum," after the first artificial satellite. It is made up of irregularly-shaped segments, with a surface that's cracked and broken with shallow troughs. There are no craters, but there are small pits that NASA believes formed through the process of sublimation, in which solid ice transforms directly into gas.

"This terrain is not easy to explain," said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team in a NASA statement. "The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations."



New Horizons isn't finished by a long shot, and scientists will likely learn more about this enigmatic smooth terrain as the probe continues to send back photographs and other observations of our former ninth planet. It currently has sixteen months' worth of data stored in its memory, and is expected to send that data back to Earth for the next year or so.
Science
Space
NASA
Astronomy
Space Imagery
New Horizons: Stunning Images of Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto

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