Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, is home to an unusual canyon system that’s far longer and deeper than Arizona’s Grand Canyon. As far as NASA’s New Horizons scientists can tell, the canyon informally named Argo Chasma has a total length of approximately 430 miles — one and a half times the length and five times the depth of the Grand Canyon on Earth.
A mosaic strip just released by the New Horizons team now includes all of the highest-resolution images taken by the NASA probe. The mosaic affords scientists and the public the best opportunity to examine the fine details of the various types of terrain on Pluto, and determine the processes that formed and shaped them.
Warming up for a possible extended mission as it speeds through deep space, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now twice observed 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wide Kuiper Belt object (KBO) orbiting more than 3 billion miles from the Sun. Science team members have used these observations to reveal new facts about this distant remnant of the early solar system.
Within Pluto’s informally named Vega Terra region is a field of eye-catching craters that looks like a cluster of bright haloes scattered across a dark landscape. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has revealed that the floors and terrain between the craters show signs of water ice, but exactly why bright methane ice settles on these crater rims and walls is a mystery.
Scientists on NASA’s New Horizons mission team are learning more about the structure and behaviour of Pluto’s complex atmosphere by discovering new attributes of its extensive haze layers. The hazes were first discovered by New Horizons in July 2015, as the spacecraft swept past Pluto and made its historic first exploration of the mysterious dwarf planet.
One of the strangest landforms spotted by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it flew past Pluto was the “bladed” terrain formally named Tartarus Dorsa. The blades reach hundreds of feet high and are typically spaced a few miles apart. No geology degree is necessary to see why the terrain is so interesting — just grab your red and green 3-D spectacles.
This feature appears to be a frozen, former lake of liquid nitrogen, located in a mountain range just north of Pluto’s informally named Sputnik Planum. Captured by the New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) as the spacecraft flew past Pluto on 14 July 2015, the image shows the possible lake to be about 20 miles (30 kilometres) across.
This image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft focuses on a section of the informally named Serenity Chasma, part of a vast equatorial belt of chasms on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. Scientists believe that Charon’s subsurface water-ice layer may have been partially liquid in its early history, and has since refrozen, expanded and pushed the surface outward, producing the massive chasms we see today.
To help mission scientists understand the diversity of Pluto’s terrain and to piece together how the dwarf planet’s surface has formed and evolved over time, NASA’s New Horizons mission scientists have started constructing geological maps. The base map for this interpretation is a mosaic of 12 images obtained by the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).
“X” marks the spot of some intriguing surface activity in the latest picture of Pluto returned from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. This image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) extends New Horizons’ highest-resolution views of Pluto to the very centre of Sputnik Planum, the informally named icy plain that forms the left side of Pluto’s “heart” feature.