New Horizons finds frozen plains, icy mountains on Pluto

New images and data changes our understanding of the distant dwarf planet

New Horizons finds frozen plains, icy mountains on Pluto

World Bulletin / News Desk

 New images of Pluto released by NASA on Friday promise to rewrite textbooks on space and show that the dwarf planet’s surface is home to large frozen plains and huge ice mountains.

The images and data have been beamed back to Earth from the space agency’s New Horizons spacecraft that encountered Pluto on Tuesday and now is approaching the outer edge of our solar system.

New Horizons continues to focus its instruments on Pluto even though it is now beyond the frozen world; the different views could reveal more, scientists believe, including whether the dwarf planet is encircled in Saturn-like rings of ice and debris.

The visit to Pluto this week concludes humanity’s quest to encounter the nine classical planets of the solar system. Pluto was downgraded to dwarf planet status by the International Astronomical Union mere months after New Horizons launched in 2006.

“I’m a little biased but I think the solar system saved the best for last,” Alan Stern, the New Horizons principle investigator, said in a press release.

NASA claimed Pluto is home to mountains of frozen nitrogen that stretch thousands of feet into the Plutonian sky. New Horizons also finds that hundreds of tons of nitrogen gas is leaking into space every hour.

Heat is also appearing to rise up through Pluto’s crust, evidence that the dwarf planet is geologically active. That fact goes against previous theories that the ice-encrusted world is essentially inert.

The New Horizons team also displayed their first image of Nix, one of Pluto’s moons. Nix is a mere 40 kilometers (25 miles) in diameter.

As researchers pour over the treasure trove of data provided by New Horizons, scientists believe Pluto’s surface contains water ice. Scientists are excited to find water elsewhere in space because it is an essential ingredient for life as we understand it. 

Last Mod: 18 Temmuz 2015, 11:18
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