Pluto is slowly giving up some of its secrets after the first High Definition close-up views were relayed back to Earth from NASA’s New Horizons probe.
The images have stunned appreciative scientists who have been surprised by the absence of impact craters on the dwarf planet’s surface while marveling at the existence of a range of mountains made of ice .
Alan Stern, Principal Investigator for New Horizons’ Mission:
“This deep topography means that the bedrock that made these mountains must be H2O—of water ice. So even before the composition team tells us that they found places where the nitrogen veneer has been eroded or scraped off, and we see water ice on Pluto for the first time, we can be very sure that the water is there in great abundance.”
Scientists now believe Pluto’s mountains were likely formed within the last 100 million years, a relative blink of the eye compared to the age of the solar system.
The photos collected on the NASA probe’s flyby of Pluto are only a fraction of whats to come over the next six months as New Horizons ‘ transmits as it flies’ deeper into the Kuiper Belt. That’s a region of the solar system beyond Neptune that is filled with thousands of Pluto-like ice-and-rock worlds believed to be remnants from the formation of the solar system, some 4.6 billion years ago.
Pluto which is smaller than Earth’s moon, circles the sun every 248 years in a highly tilted orbit that creates radical changes from season to season. It travels closer to the sun than the orbit of Neptune before it cycles back into the solar system’s deep freeze more than 40 times farther away than Earth.