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Pluto’s icy ‘spider’

7 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Sprawling across Pluto’s icy landscape is an unusual geological feature that resembles a giant spider. This enhanced colour image, obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on 14 July 2015, consists of at least six extensional fractures (arrowed) converging to a point near the centre. Curiously, the spider’s “legs” expose red deposits below Pluto’s surface.

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View Pluto’s bladed terrain in 3-D

2 April 2016 Astronomy Now

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.

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Methane snow on Pluto’s peaks

5 March 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA’s New Horizons team has discovered a chain of exotic snowcapped mountains stretching across the dark expanse on Pluto informally named Cthulhu Regio. One of the dwarf planet’s most identifiable features, Cthulhu (pronounced kuh-THU-lu) is a bit larger than the state of Alaska and stretches nearly halfway around Pluto’s equator.

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The frozen canyons of Pluto’s north pole

26 February 2016 Astronomy Now

This ethereal scene captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft tells yet another story of Pluto’s diversity of geological and compositional features — this time in an enhanced colour image of the north polar area. A canyon about 45 miles wide runs close to the north pole, its degraded walls suggesting evidence for an ancient period of tectonics.

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Pluto’s close-up, now in colour

12 December 2015 Astronomy Now

This enhanced colour mosaic combines some of the sharpest views of Pluto that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft obtained during its 14 July flyby, revealing features smaller than half a city block on the dwarf planet’s surface. The wide variety of cratered, mountainous and glacial terrains seen here gives scientists and the public alike a breathtaking, super-high-resolution colour window into Pluto’s geology.

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A day on Pluto, a day on Charon

20 November 2015 Astronomy Now

Pluto’s day is 6.4 Earth days long. The dwarf planet’s largest moon, Charon, also rotates once every 6.4 days as the two worlds are tidally locked to each another. This sequence of images from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows us full rotations of the two bodies.