NASA New Horizons images of Pluto reveal snakeskin surface features

Perplexing new Pluto images reveal odd "snakeskin" surface features

Contributed by
Sep 24, 2015, 6:36 PM EDT

Another week, another wave of wondrous New Horizons Pluto pictures to peruse.  Check out a tantalizing new trio of Plutonian images captured during its brief July 14 flyby, courtesy of NASA's dedicated team and the spacecraft's wide-angle Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) and narrow-angle Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).  Hold your breath and take a look..


This first extended color image of the Tartarus Dorsa region along Pluto's day-night terminator point spans 330 miles across, revealing rough, snakeskin-like terrain textures, odd blue-gray ridges and reddish accumulations of material that have scientists temporarily puzzled.

“It’s a unique and perplexing landscape stretching over hundreds of miles,” said William McKinnon, New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team deputy lead in Washington D.C. “It looks more like tree bark or dragon scales than geology. This’ll really take time to figure out; maybe it’s some combination of internal tectonic forces and ice sublimation driven by Pluto’s faint sunlight.”


Next is this highly detailed, cylindrical projection map of Pluto, presented in enhanced, extended color.  This sweeping image uses recently downlinked color imagery from New Horizons' Ralph camera, which is draped onto a foundation map of photos from the spacecraft’s LORRI camera.   This is the most detailed map of Pluto compiled yet and uses the Ralph instrument's blue, red and near-infrared filter channels.


Lastly, we have a slice of Pluto's pockmarked, cratered surface in a swath covering 330 miles across and captured just before New Horizons' closest approach on July 14, and a close-up of its strange frozen crust.  The immense Sputnik Planum basin reveals a striking variety of complex landscape features, from scalloped ridges to faulted mountain blocks, icy cliffs, rounded dunes and perhaps the ancient shoreline of a shrinking glacial ice lake.


“With these just-downlinked images and maps, we’ve turned a new page in the study of Pluto, beginning to reveal the planet at high resolution in both color and composition,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern. “I wish Pluto’s discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh, had lived to see this day.”

How'd you like this latest batch of bizarrely beautiful Pluto images?

(Via NASA/New Horizons)