New Images Show Parts of Pluto Act Like A Lava Lamp

X Marks The Spot

Transmitted to Earth on Dec. 24, 2015, this image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) extends New Horizons’ highest-resolution swath of Pluto to the center of Sputnik Planum, the informally named plain that forms the left side of Pluto’s “heart.” Mission scientists believe the pattern of the cells stems from the slow thermal convection of the nitrogen-dominated ices. A reservoir that’s likely several miles or kilometers deep in some places, the solid nitrogen is warmed at depth by Pluto’s modest internal heat, becomes buoyant and rises up in great blobs, and then cools off and sinks again to renew the cycle - a lava lamp effect. The darker patch at the center of the image is likely a dirty block of water ice “floating” in denser solid nitrogen, and which has been dragged to the edge of a convection cell. Also visible are thousands of pits in the surface, which scientists believe may form by sublimation. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

For the original press release, read here.

Pluto’s Icy Plains

The mosaic shown here form a strip 50 miles (80 kilometers) wide and more than 400 miles (700 kilometers) long, trending from the northwestern shoreline of Sputnik Planum and out across its icy plains. They were made with the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard New Horizons, from a range of approximately 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers), about 15 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto. The surface of Sputnik Planum appears darker toward the shore (at top), possibly implying a change in composition or surface texture. The occasional raised, darker blocks at the cell edges are probably dirty water “icebergs” that are floating in denser solid nitrogen. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

For the original press release, read here.

Particles ‘Go with the Flow’ on Pluto’s Surface

Scientists from NASA’s New Horizons mission have combined data from two instruments to create this composite image of Pluto’s informally named Viking Terra area. The combined data includes pictures taken by the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a range of about 31,000 miles (49,000 kilometers), showing features as small as 1,600 feet (480 meters) across. Draped over the LORRI mosaic is enhanced color data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), gathered about 20 minutes after the LORRI snapshots were taken, from a range of 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) and at a resolution of about 2,100 feet (650 meters) per pixel. The entire scene is 160 miles (250 kilometers) across. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI
Among the features scientists find particularly interesting are the bright methane ices that condensed on many crater rims; the collection of dark red tholins (small soot-like particles generated from reactions involving methane and nitrogen in the atmosphere) in low areas, like the bottoms of craters; and the layering on the faces of steep cliffs and on crater walls. In areas where the reddish material is thickest and the surface appears smooth, the material seems to have flowed into some channels and craters. Scientists say tholin deposits of that thickness aren’t usually mobile on large scales, suggesting that they might be riding along with ice flowing underneath, or being blown around by Pluto’s winds. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

For the original press release, read here.

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