New Hori­zons dawn with im­ages of Pluto

Townsville Bulletin - - NEWS -

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

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