New Pluto photos are here and they’re amazing

16 Jul 2015

New Pluto photos revealed at NASA announcement. Image via NASA

Well here we are, the new Pluto photos are here in all their glory. It took nine years, but now the surfaces of Pluto and Charon have been revealed with mountains and, no, there are no whales.

The New Horizons team were, safe to say, rather excited when the new Pluto photos began beaming back and already we have some incredible insight into how Pluto formed.

Based off these images, Pluto as a dwarf planet is only a newborn in the greater scheme of things when it comes to the universe, as its towering mountains are judged to be only 100m years old, which would suggest that they are still geologically active at a height of 11,000ft.

And because Pluto is not heated by gravitational reactions from larger planets, this mountainous activity must be generated by another power, likely to be one internally within the dwarf planet.

“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” said Jeff Moore of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI).

Meanwhile, Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, was also snapped by New Horizons in stunning detail, with the biggest surprise found by NASA scientists being the apparent lack of craters on its surface.

What is clear, however, is that its surface is fracturing significantly, with troughs stretching 1,000km, while also showing a vast canyon believed to be between 7-9km in depth.

Not wanting to feel left out, New Horizons was able to capture some rough images of Pluto’s other smaller moons: Hydra, Nix, Styx and Kerberos, with the first revealing that it’s 43km by 33km.

“This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,” said GGI deputy team leader John Spencer.

New Horizons’ array of instruments also managed to discover that Pluto contains a significant amount of methane within its icy surface.

“We just learned that in the north polar cap, methane ice is diluted in a thick, transparent slab of nitrogen ice, resulting in strong absorption of infrared light,” said New Horizons co-investigator Will Grundy.

So for your enjoyment, NASA presents the surfaces of Pluto and Charon.

New Pluto photos surface

A range of youthful mountains rising as high as 11,000ft above the surface of the icy body. Image via NASA/JHU APL/SwRI

New Pluto photos Charon

The encapsulating surface of Charon. Image via NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

And just to see how far we have come, check out this gif from NASA about how our perspective of Pluto has changed through the decades until the present day.

New Pluto photos gif

New Pluto photos showing methane

The readings from New Horizons showing where the level of methane ice is highest (red) and lowest (green). Image via NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

New Pluto photos Hydra

Hydra was approximately 400,000 miles away from New Horizons when the image was acquired. Image via NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic