The latest high-resolution images taken by NASA’s New Horizon orbiter during this summer’s historic flyby continue to puzzle and delight scientists worldwide.
A recent batch of photos shows that the dwarf planet has a very unusual surface which points at a geological history that greatly differs from everything researchers have come across so far.
The eerie landscape is totally unexpected and challenges nearly all hypotheses scientists launched about Pluto’s geology. New Horizons finally allowed humanity to have a close look at the icy planet, and the details are striking.
William McKinnon, one of the geologists involved in the New Horizons mission, said about some parts of the planet’s unusual landscape that they resemble ‘tree bark or dragon scales than geology.’ McKinnon believes that ice sublimation against a dark background in combination with tectonic activity may have led to such geological features. Nevertheless, scientists would need a lot of time to learn what really caused the dragon-scale-like terrain.
The latest photos also show rounded mountains on the planet’s surface and maybe dunes. Scientists overlaid multiple photos to get a clear view on what the terrain really looks like. But researchers never encountered such scale-like features in other worlds they have studied, so it is all the more harder to come up with a theory on their possible origin.
NASA also recently released an assemblage of colorful high-res images taken by its spacecraft during the July 14 flyby. The assemblage shows a nearly-full globe which users can zoom in to observe its landforms in unprecedented detail.
On the globe you can see dark craters, ice mountains, ridged icy plains, and the Sputnik Planum, or the left ‘lobe’ of the heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio, also known as ‘the heart of Pluto.’
McKinnon noted that the landscape, and especially the scale-like terrain are both unique and ‘perplexing.’ The imagery also shows hundreds of mile-long ridges, old canyons, and plains marked by the shadows cast by the weird ridges.
In another picture, there are some dune-like landforms, about which scientists said that they may be ice mountains with steep edges and a glacial lake that seems to lose mass. Nevertheless, the map of the almost-full globe is not yet finished. More photos are expected to be downlinked by New Horizons in the coming months and added to bigger picture.
But the current form of the map is detailed enough to provide scientists with research material for many years to come. Researchers are especially interested in the methane distribution on Pluto’s surface. New Horizons data showed that Sputnik Planum is relatively rich in the gas, and so are the carter rims and ridges.
Image Source: Wikimedia
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