New Images Of Pluto From NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft
We hadn't seen new images of Pluto for several weeks but that all changed today with the release of new close-up images of Pluto by the New Horizons team. They reveal that Pluto's surface texture is even more complex than previously thought. "Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system," said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. "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."
The press release notes that the new images "reveal new features as diverse as possible dunes, nitrogen ice flows that apparently oozed out of mountainous regions onto plains, and even networks of valleys that may have been carved by material flowing over Pluto’s surface. They also show large regions that display chaotically jumbled mountains reminiscent of disrupted terrains on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa."
"The surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars," said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. "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."
Dunes On Pluto
Of special interest is an area that shows what might be a field of dark wind-blown dunes. "Seeing dunes on Pluto -- if that is what they are -- would be completely wild, because Pluto’s atmosphere today is so thin," said William B. McKinnon, a GGI deputy lead from Washington University, St. Louis. "Either Pluto had a thicker atmosphere in the past, or some process we haven’t figured out is at work. It’s a head-scratcher."
The latest images also show that Pluto’s atmospheric haze has more layers than scientists initially thought. The haze actually creates a twilight effect that softly illuminates nightside terrain near sunset, enabling the cameras aboard New Horizons to capture details on the nighttime regions of Pluto that would otherwise be invisible.
New Images To Be Released Tomorrow Of Pluto's Moons
New images of Pluto's largest Moon Charon, and smaller moons Nix and Hydra, will be released tomorrow. The statement hints that the new images will reveal that "each moon is unique and that big moon Charon’s geological past was a tortured one." Over the next few weeks and months we can expect a steady stream of new data and images of the Pluto system!