New Horizons dawn with images of Pluto
A range of youthful mountains rising as high as 3500m above the surface of the icy body. The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters relative to the 4.56billion- year age of the solar system — and may still be in the process of building. MANKIND’S first close- up look at Pluto did not disappoint.
The pictures showed ice mountains on Pluto about as high as the Rockies and chasms on its big moon Charon that appear six times deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Especially astonishing to scientists was the total absence of impact craters in a zoom- in shot of one otherwise rugged slice of Pluto.
That suggests Pluto is not the dead ice ball many think, but is instead geologically active even now.
Its surface is sculpted not by collisions with cosmic debris but by its internal heat, the scientific team reported.
Breathtaking in their clarity, the long- awaited images were unveiled in Laurel, Maryland, home to mission operations for NASA’s New Horizons, the unmanned spacecraft paid a history- making fly- by to the dwarf planet on Tuesday after a journey of nine years and 4.8 billion kilometres.
“I don’t think any one of us could have imagined that it was this good of a toy store,” the principal scientist Alan Stern said at a news conference.
He marvelled: “I think the whole system is amazing. ... The Pluto system is something wonderful.”
As a tribute to Pluto’s discoverer, Stern and his team named the bright heart- shaped area on the surface of Pluto the Tombaugh Reggio. American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh spied the frozen, faraway world in 1930.
An image from NASA shows Pluto’s largest moon Charon.
Annette Tombaugh Sitze, daughter of Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, watches images of Pluto. Picture: AFP