New Horizons Sent Home a Picture of Pluto’s Mountain Ranges

New Horizons Sent Home a Picture of Pluto's Mountain Ranges

OKAY, HERE’S THE one you’ve been waiting for: Here is the first true close-up picture of Pluto’s surface, focused on the edge of the southeastern hemisphere. It shows that Pluto has mountains, and that those mountains are made of water ice. And most exciting of all—those mountains might be geologically active.

“The most striking geology is that we haven’t found a single impact crater,” says John Spencer, one of New Horizons’ lead scientists. “That means this is a very young surface.” “Young” being less than 100 million years old.

Get Free Email Updates!

Signup now and receive an email once I publish new content.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

So what could be driving that geologic activity? There’s no planetary body large enough to be driving tidal energy, so Spencer speculates that the energy could be driven by latent radioactive energy, or a large interior ocean could release energy as it freezes. Or, the planet could be storing energy from its formation through some other, unknown process.

And yeah, about that water. See those mountains? Those are about 11,000 feet tall. Frozen nitrogen and methane would crumble under their own weight at those elevations. And because of Pluto’s mass and size, they can’t be bedrock. The only way to balance that equation is ice.

Stay tuned for more science, more pictures, and more excitement from the Pluto system.]

videoId:'7iyd-gh2rhM', }); } // when video runs var done = false; function onPlayerStateChange(event) { if ( == YT.PlayerState.ENDED || done === true) { //insert appropriate modal (or whatever) below startmashvipo(); } }; /* Stop the video */ function stopVideo() { player.stopVideo(); done = true; }  


OVER THE COURSE of New Horizons’ nearly decade-long journey to Pluto, mission scientists at NASA, Johns Hopkins, and the Southwest Research Institute have watched the icy rock grow from mere pixels into a real place, with topography and geology and all the things you’d expect from a planet (even though it technically isn’t one).

Today, after the space probe completed its closest approach to Pluto’s system, the New Horizons team released a new image—the most detailed ever—that shows mountains on the dwarf planet’s southeastern hemisphere. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center posted this timeline of Pluto photos, making the accomplishments of the New Horizons team that much more visceral. Take it all in.