New snaps of Pluto’s surface taken by the New Horizons spacecraft uncover geographic elements that could lead to a better understanding of the history of the planet as well as to that of our solar system, according to scientists.
The variety of terrains found on Pluto came as a surprise even to experts. Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), says that from the photos they can tell that Pluto has old terrain, specifically craters, but also new terrain which is levelled. Terrains filled with ridges and mountains are also part of Pluto’s geographical diversity.
New Horizons took high resolution photos of Pluto in July this year using the Long Ranger Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). The photos were taken from a relatively close distance of 1,100 miles which made it possible too see flows of nitrogen ice, valleys and dunes on the planet’s surface.
“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system. […] If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top – but that’s what is actually there.” explained Dr. Alan Stern the Principal Investigator at New Horizons.
The intricate geography of Pluto may be similar to that of Mars, says head of the Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI), Jeff More. Pluto’s surface also reminds scientists of Jupiter’s glacial moon, Europa.
According to William B. McKinnon, who works in the Geology, Geophysics and Imaging department at the Ames Research Centrer, the dunes on Pluto’s surface may suggest a change in the planet’s atmosphere.
The atmospheric haze of Pluto is distributed in more layers that it was initially thought, say scientists after closely examining the new images which had an exceptionally better quality than the previous ones. Given that fact that only 5 percent of the Pluto data has reached the Earth, scientist are eager to lay their hands on the other 95 percent of the data.
New Horizons managed to reach Pluto in July after a lengthy journey of an approximately nine year voyage and a distance of 3 billion miles. It is fair to say that when the first photos of Pluto, taken by the Long Ranger Reconnaissance Imager, surfaced the internet they made history and gained the admiration of many people all over the globe