New Horizons’ historic trip to Pluto last week continues to throw up more and more cool images. So much so that NASA has already compiled a 3D video visualisation of what the surface looks like.
The Pluto flyby was nine years in the making – and happened seconds before originally planned – and so far the trickle of data downloading from New Horizons has been choc full of gems.
We had the high-resolution, masterful image of Pluto’s surface – heart and all (main image). We had images of Charon, Pluto’s partner in both crime and orbit.
But the topographical makeup of the dwarf planet is now becoming more and more known.
This simulated flyover of Pluto’s Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) and Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain) was created from New Horizons closest approach images.
Norgay Montes has been informally named for Tenzing Norgay, one of the first two humans to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Its peaks are similar in size to the North American Rocky Mountains.
The flat plains in the second part are informally named Sputnik, after Earth’s first artificial satellite.
Sputnik Planum is in the north (left) region of Pluto’s ‘heart’, and scientists reckon it’s only 100 million years old, still being shaped by geological processes.
“This terrain is not easy to explain,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.
“The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations.”
This gif of how Pluto has been observed over the years should go some way to showing you how new all this detailed information is to NASA at the moment…
Meanwhile, a fine image of both Pluto and Charon has been created by NASA, from images taken last week of both masses. You can click on it to view it in full size:
The relative reflectivity, size, separation and orientations of Pluto and Charon are approximated in this composite, as are their colours.