New Horizons' first fantastic flyby images of Pluto and Charon

Contributed by
Jul 17, 2015

NASA's New Horizons team just completed their latest mission briefing from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland and treated us to some breathtaking new images collected during the celebrated spacecraft's July 14th flyby of Pluto and its moons. 

Taken at a range of just 7,700 miles above Pluto's pock-marked surface, these initial images, 1000-times more detailed than even the Hubble Space Telescope is capable of, illuminate the incredible geological diversity and barren, rocky terrain of the frigid dwarf planet.  With topographical features as small as a half-mile across, this first detailed shot has revealed an uncanny absence of impact craters, indicating a very young surface with ice-crusted mountains formed less than 100 million years ago

New Horizons' cameras captured mountains up to 11,000 feet high and a crumbly crust covered with nitrogen ice, methane ice and carbon monoxide ice . Team members pointed out that these frozen gasses formed a coating atop the iced bedrock of its surface.  This is the first icy world seen not orbiting a giant planet, and scientists confirmed their discovery that tidal heating is obviously not required to power ongoing, geological activity on frozen worlds. especially a small isolated  planet that is still showing activity after 4 1/2 billion years . 

In a touching tribute to astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto in 1930, the famous heart-shaped region is now officially named Tombaugh Regio.

Additionally, scientists were surpised by the relatively smooth features of Pluto's largest moon, Charon, with a mysterious dark region at the north pole now nicknamed, "Mordor."  A long, linear series of miles-deep troughs, canyons and cliffs extend up to 600 miles across the entire surface near its equator and higher resolution images are forthcoming as soon as Friday.. 

Though these sensational shots were just a tease of the waterfall to come, they're still astonishing and we can't wait to see what wonders will be revealed in the weeks and months ahead as the immense sets of data are downloaded and processed.  Stay tuned to Blastr as more Plutonian pictures arrive!

What do you think of these first photos from the outer limits of our solar system?

(Via NASA)




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