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Frozen Plains Glimpsed on Pluto

  • VOA News

In the center left of Pluto’s vast heart-shaped feature lies a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes.

In the center left of Pluto’s vast heart-shaped feature lies a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes.

U.S. Space Agency NASA released more photos of the surface of Pluto showing smooth, frozen plains, following the first spacecraft flyby of the distant dwarf planet.

Close-up photographs of the vast plains were released Friday, several days after the first set of pictures from the New Horizons mission revealed a range of icy mountains as high as 3,500 meters above Pluto's surface.

Scientists said the mountains and plains were likely formed no more than 100 million years ago, a relatively short time in the solar system's 4.56 billion-year history.

Peering closely at the “heart of Pluto,” New Horizons’ Ralph instrument revealed evidence of carbon monoxide ice. The contours indicate that the concentration of frozen carbon monoxide increases towards the center of the “bull’s eye.”

Peering closely at the “heart of Pluto,” New Horizons’ Ralph instrument revealed evidence of carbon monoxide ice. The contours indicate that the concentration of frozen carbon monoxide increases towards the center of the “bull’s eye.”

They speculated at a news conference at Cape Canaveral, Florida, Friday that Pluto is still being shaped by active geological processes.

"This terrain is not easy to explain," said Jeff Moore, the head of the New Horizons geology team at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.

Moore said scientists are still in the most preliminarily stages of the investigations into Pluto's surface.

Only about 1 percent of the 50 gigabytes of data recorded in the close encounter with Pluto has been relayed back to Earth.

The nuclear powered New Horizons – moving faster than any spacecraft ever built at a speed of more than 49,500 kilometers per hour – sped by Pluto Tuesday, getting as close as 12,500 kilometers and grabbing a huge volume of data.

NASA reveals new close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains, July 15, 2015.

NASA reveals new close-up images of a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a giant surprise: a range of youthful mountains, July 15, 2015.

Especially astounding to scientists was the absence of craters on Pluto. They said that suggests to their surprise that Pluto is geologically active even now, and is being sculpted not by outside forces but by internal heat.

The New Horizons team announced this week it was naming the "heart" shape on Pluto's surface, Tombaugh Regio, after Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto.

The mission completes the exploration of the solar system, and it makes the United States the first nation to send a space probe to every planet from Mercury to Pluto.

WATCH: Related video on Pluto

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