NASA’s New Horizons probe has released high-resolution images of Pluto, than the ones released in July. The new images show the terrain, linear features resembling wind-sculpted sand-dunes, and nitrogen ice flows.
The new images were taken during a flyby over the summer, allowing scientists to examine the features in the terrain. Alan Stern, the mission’s principal investigator said Pluto’s geology is incredibly diverse. I think it’s magical and breathtaking, he added. Though the extreme diversity of Pluto’s surface has been shaped, data sets downloaded over the next year could reveal more details. It could also reveal information about other members of Pluto’s family – its large moon Charon, and the smaller satellites Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx.
“Seeing dunes on Pluto — if that is what they are — would be completely wild, because Pluto’s atmosphere is so thin,” said William B. McKinnon, deputy head of New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. NASA describes these “dunes” as dark aligned ridges with an ancient, cratered terrain near the bottom, and “bright, smooth, geologically young terrain” top up.
Another image shows the “chaotically jumbled mountains reminiscent of disrupted terrains on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.” Jeff Moore, leader of CGI team stated that the surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars. Moore said these randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen within the region informally named Sputnik Planum.
New Horizons would take about 16 months to transmit all of its data, and it would release images of Pluto’s moons in the coming days. The probe would fire in thrusters four times in late October and early November to point at a small icy body called 2014 MU69, which will be studied in 2019, if NASA approves an extension for the mission.
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Discoveries being made from the new imagery are not limited to Pluto’s surface. Better images of Pluto’s moons Charon, Nix, and Hydra will be released Friday at the raw images site for New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), revealing that each moon is unique and that big moon Charon’s geological past was a tortured one.