After it was announced that the New Horizons probe successful reconnected with Earth last night, we all anxiously awaited the first ever close up photo of Pluto.
Yesterday, NASA blew us away with this pic. Now, the images are even better.
Here’s the closest image ever of Pluto. It was taken when New Horizons was still 1.5 hours away from its closest approach.
That’s near the southern pole of Pluto and those are mountains 11,000 feet high.
The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system — and may still be in the process of building, says Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI). That suggests the close-up region, which covers less than one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.
Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.
This discovery is basically gonna fuck up geophysicists world, because nothing like this has ever happened. Active geology — such as formation of mountains — typically has only been witnessed from the tidal forces brought by planets. But Pluto doesn’t orbit a gas giant. It’s on its own.
Speculation is that the geological activity could be coming from radioactive material, or stored heat from the planet’s formation.
NASA doesn’t know what the mountains are made of yet, but the current assumption is water.
The mountains are probably composed of Pluto’s water-ice “bedrock.”
Although methane and nitrogen ice covers much of the surface of Pluto, these materials are not strong enough to build the mountains. Instead, a stiffer material, most likely water-ice, created the peaks. “At Pluto’s temperatures, water-ice behaves more like rock,” said deputy GGI lead Bill McKinnon of Washington University, St. Louis.
There will be troves of information in the coming days, but suffice it to say, NASA scientists are jazzed. Also, what up, Charon?