Latest Pics From New Horizons Reveal Flowing Ices, Spectacular Detail, And Pluto's Dark Side
Sarah Fecht
at 09:37 AM Jul 27 2015
Latest Pics From New Horizons Reveal Flowing Ices, Spectacular Detail, And Pluto's Dark Side
New Horizons says goodbye to Pluto
Space // 

Beamed across billions of miles and a very narrow bandwidth, the latest images from the Pluto flyby were worth waiting for. One reveals the view from New Horizons after it sped past Pluto and looked back to study its atmosphere. “This is our equivalent on New Horizons of the Apollo 11 earthrise,” says New Horizons' Alan Stern.

It is both beautiful and mysterious. Backlighting by the sun shows that Pluto's atmosphere is about four times taller than scientists thought was possible. It has two distinct layers of haze--one at 30 miles above the surface, and another at 50 miles. The haze extends to about 80 miles out, whereas scientists previously thought that it could only extend to 20 miles.

From a NASA press release:

Models suggest that the hazes form when ultraviolet sunlight breaks apart methane gas, a simple hydrocarbon known to reside throughout Pluto's atmosphere. The breakdown of methane triggers the buildup of more complex hydrocarbon gases, such as ethylene and acetylene, which were also discovered at Pluto by New Horizons. As these hydrocarbons fall to the lower, colder parts of the atmosphere, they condense as ice particles, forming the hazes. Ultraviolent sunlight chemically converts hazes into tholins, the dark hydrocarbons that color Pluto's surface.

Another image suggests that ice sheets have scraped across Pluto's "Sputnik Plains" sometime in recent history. So far, evidence of this phenomenon has only ever been observed on Earth and Mars.

Flowing ice on Pluto
Images of Pluto's surface captured by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reveal that a giant sheet of ice recently flowed — and could still be flowing now — in a plain in the western half of Pluto's "heart," also known as Tombaugh Regio.

Ice appears to have flowed and may still be flowing across the Texas-sized plains in the Western part of Pluto's "heart". These are just the latest data that dispel the idea that Pluto is "dead"--it is in fact a world that's geologically alive.


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