NASA released a new video of the icy plains discovered on Pluto, showing a close-up to the dwarf’s surface. The images had been captured by New Horizons, whose mission started in January 2006. The spacecraft traveled nine years to reach Pluto.
While other visual displays from space consist of computer simulations, this video is composed of actual images that had been taken by the instruments found on New Horizons. The photographs were taken on July 14, 2015, when the spacecraft flew at a distance of 7,800 miles from the world.
Pluto was discovered only in 1930, and since then the scientists had to show only faint and distant pictures of the planet. Even the most powerful telescopes on Earth could not obtain a detailed image of Pluto, and until now all pictures were either artist representations or they displayed only a fuzzy dot.
The 2015 flyby showed the world the diversity of forms found on Pluto’s surface, going from mountains made of ice to flowing glaciers.
The recently published video simulates the images that could be captured during an actual landing on the surface. The icy plains where this close-up had been taken is known as Sputnik Planum, and its surface is composed mainly of nitrogen.
Ice nitrogen’s fracture and sublimation have created pits with dark bottoms, which scientists believe contain tholins.
The accumulation of nitrogen inside the basin could have produced a gravity anomaly on Pluto, shifting the planet’s spin axis and making the planum come close to the anti-Charon point.
The icy plains have a surface of about 650 by 500 miles and contains irregular polygons underlined by troughs. Sputnik Planum is placed on the west part of the heart-shaped region.
While bordered by ice mountains, the Sputnik Planum does not show any craters, which could mean that the area is very new. Recent estimations set its age to be around 10 million years old.
The idea of new geological formations came as a surprise as the scientists did not believe that the small world could be geologically active. Until now, astronomers thought that only through the gravitational force of a close and heavy planet could a dwarf be made to create new geological features.
New Horizons will continue to send images from Pluto until October this year. The spacecraft prepares for a new flyby in January 2019, when New Horizon is supposed to come close to 2014 MU69, a small Kuiper belt object with a diameter of only 20 miles.
Image Source: Flickr