Tags: pluto | close up | images | flyby | new horizons

Pluto's New Close-up Images Could Be a 'Gamechanger' for Scientists

Image: Pluto's New Close-up Images Could Be a 'Gamechanger' for Scientists
(Photo by NASA/APL/SwRI via Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 16 Jul 2015 02:45 PM

Pluto’s stunning close-up images released on Wednesday reveal what could prove to be a “gamechanger” for scientists in how they continue to analyze the rest of the much-anticipated data being collected by the New Horizon’s historic flyby of the dwarf planet.

One close-up image depicting an area near Pluto’s equator shows a mountain range that rises as high as 11,000 feet above the dwarf planet’s icy surface, Fox News reported. This picture was taken when the spacecraft was 478,000 miles from Pluto’s surface, about an hour and a half before it came closest to Pluto at 7,800 miles.

Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator, compared the dwarf planet’s mountains to Earth’s Rocky Mountains, marveling about the new clues they reveal about Pluto’s geology.

“The steep topography means that the bedrock that made these mountains must be of H20, water ice,” Stern said, according to Fox News. “We can be really sure that the water is there in great abundance.”

The photo also reveals an astounding lack of craters on Pluto’s surface, despite the presence of comets pummeling about throughout the solar system. This suggests that Pluto may be younger than scientists initially believed and that a lot of geological activity has recently smoothed its surface, according to The Washington Post.

The possibilities suggested by the new information upended scientists’ previous notions about geological activity on icy worlds. Activity on other icy bodies is powered by gravitational pulls from nearby larger objects, which Pluto does not have. This led to more questions about Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, which is about half of Pluto’s size, and was also revealed in photos to have a youthful and varied terrain, according to NASA. Charon proved to have a lack of craters, as well, in addition to many canyons, cliffs, and troughs.

“Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations.”

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Pluto’s stunning close-up images released on Wednesday reveal what could prove to be a “gamechanger” for scientists in how they continue to analyze the rest of the much-anticipated data being collected by the New Horizon’s historic flyby of the dwarf planet.
pluto, close up, images, flyby, new horizons
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2015-45-16
Thursday, 16 Jul 2015 02:45 PM
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