(Newsdesk) New Horizons traveled more than three billion miles over nine-and-a-half years to reach the Pluto system. Now images and data are fevereshly being processed by NASA from last night's historic Pluto flyby. Here goes straight from the horse's mouth:
Young and lively mountains at the equator, transparent slab of nitrogen ice at the North Pole
The agency reports a region near Pluto’s equator reveal a range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.
They may still be in the process of building NASA said, which means the close-up region, which covers less than one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today. Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.
“This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,” says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo.
The mountains are probably composed of Pluto’s water-ice “bedrock.” Although methane and nitrogen ice covers much of the surface of Pluto, these materials are not strong enough to build the mountains. Instead, a stiffer material, most likely water-ice, created the peaks. “At Pluto’s temperatures, water-ice behaves more like rock,” said deputy GGI lead Bill McKinnon of Washington University, St. Louis.
As for the North Polar cap, methane ice there is diluted in a thick, transparent slab of nitrogen ice. In one of the visually dark equatorial patches, the methane ice has shallower infrared absorptions indicative of a very different texture.
An Earthly example of different textures of a frozen substance: a fluffy bank of clean snow is bright white, but compacted polar ice looks blue.
The cliffs of Charon
A swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from left to right on Pluto's biggest moon Charon, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely a result of internal processes. At upper right, along the moon’s curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep.
In Charon’s north polar region, a dark marking prominent in New Horizons’ approach images is now seen to have a diffuse boundary, suggesting it is a thin deposit of dark material. Underlying it is a distinct, sharply bounded, angular feature; higher resolution images still to come are expected to shed more light on this enigmatic region.
Hydra Emerges from the Shadows
Since its discovery in 2005, Pluto's moon Hydra has been known only as a fuzzy dot of uncertain shape, size, and reflectivity. Imaging obtained during New Horizons' historic transit of the Pluto-Charon system and transmitted to Earth early this morning has definitively resolved these fundamental properties of Pluto's outermost moon.
Observations revealed an irregularly shaped body characterized by significant brightness variations over the surface. With a resolution of 2 miles (3 kilometers) per pixel, theimage shows the tiny potato-shaped moon measures 27 miles (43 kilometers) by 20 miles (33 kilometers).
Like that of Charon, Hydra's surface is probably covered with water ice, the most abundant ice in the universe. Observed within Hydra's bright regions is a darker circular structure with a diameter of approximately 6 miles (10 kilometers).
Hello Pluto, an artist's view
Pluto: Robot Explorer expected to Call Home Tonight/Updated (space craft tech overview)
Pluto shows Mystery Face for One Last Time
Final Countdown to Last Outpost in our Solar System
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