Scientists stunned by newest Pluto revelation

Pluto Icy Cells

NASA's New Horizons probe took nearly 10 years to reach the former ninth planet of the solar system, Pluto.

NASA officials revealed the fantastic photo features a resolution of about 1,400 feet (430 meters) per pixel.

Using the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC), New Horizons has obtained the image from a distance of around 13,400 miles from Pluto. The image, made from closer range, is much better than the lower-resolution images of this same terrain taken several days before closest approach. Moreover, one particularly fascinating detail appears to be a wisp of methane cloud floating above the Pluto surface, according to a NASA statement.

The picture shows a rough terrain having vast valleys and sharp mountains. Convection would erase impact craters and renew this area of the dwarf planet's surface, which fits with the data New Horizons provided. Scientists never expected such a phenomenon in this small and freezing land that is far away from planet Earth.

Also illuminated is a bright wisp tens of miles across "that may be a discrete, low-lying cloud in Pluto's atmosphere; if so, it would be the only one yet identified in New Horizons imagery", NASA officials wrote in a photo description Thursday (June the 2nd) that dubbed the image Pluto's "twilight zone".

The area in the picture is massive - so large that scientists say the viewer can see what "twilight" would look like on Pluto.

Due to the position of the New Horizon spacecraft when the photo was taken, it amplified the atmosphere of Pluto showing the haze layers and the ice plains known as Sputnik Planun and the mountains across the top called Norgay Montes.

This region is known as Sputnik Planum, but many simply refer to it as Pluto's heart, and now a new study has revealed that it might be 'beating', which appears to keep the famed region looking fresh and young, compared to the rest of the dwarf planet.

According to NASA, the spacecraft is now 3.23 billion miles (5.2 billion km) from Earth and 242.6 million miles (390.4 million km) beyond Pluto, with all systems healthy and operating normally. With any luck, we'll soon have another mysterious dwarf planet to look at: New Horizons is already on track to visit the Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 on New Year's Day, 2019.

Among the details the photo shows of the planet's atmospheric hazes is a wispy feature close the center of the top inset that could be a cloud in Pluto's lower atmosphere. We also saw that the image has a maximum resolution of 430 metres per pixel, which provides vital clues for scientists about the exact nature of Pluto's internals. The scene above, which is about 100 miles (165 kilometers) across, is part of the highest resolution scan taken by the New Horizons spacecraft.




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