New close-up images of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveal a bewildering variety of surface features that have scientists reeling because of their range and complexity. Images downlinked in the past few days reveal new features as diverse as possible dunes, nitrogen ice flows oozing out of mountainous regions onto plains, and even networks of valleys possibly carved by material flowing over Pluto’s surface.
A new close-up image of Pluto from New Horizons reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the centre-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.
Now just five days away from its close encounter with dwarf planet Pluto, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft beams back the first image to be received since the 4 July anomaly that sent the spacecraft into safe mode, indicating that all systems appear to be functioning normally. The flyby sequence of science observations is officially underway.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft doesn’t pass Pluto until July 14th — zipping by about 7,800 miles (12,500 kilometres) above the surface of the dwarf planet after a journey of almost 3 billion miles — but the mission team is making tantalising new discoveries as the piano-sized probe bears down on the Pluto system.