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The Frozen Plains of Pluto’s ‘Heart’

Jul 18

New Horizons has sent back new images of Pluto, including a close-up view of the “Tombaugh Regio,” which resembles a giant, pale heart stretching 1,600 km across the dwarf planet’s surface. The new images show a broad plain free of any craters, broken into irregular segments by shallow troughs. Scientists don’t know how they formed, but here are two leading theories: “The irregular shapes may be the result of the contraction of surface materials, similar to what happens when mud dries. Alternatively, they may be a product of convection, similar to wax rising in a lava lamp.” This image comes alongside new data on Pluto’s extended atmosphere. NASA has released other new findings from the Pluto region, as well. Pluto is trailed by a region of cold, ionized gas ripped away from its atmosphere by the solar wind. We’ve also gotten a close look at Charon, Pluto’s biggest moon. One unusual feature is a sizable mountain rising from an even larger depression in the moon’s surface. On top of that, NASA has released the first look at Nix, a tiny satellite of Pluto roughly 40 km in diameter. The image is highly pixelated, but we should get a better image tomorrow, during New Horizon’s Saturday downlink. The NY Times has a gallery of images, which also includes pictures of Hydra (another small moon) and a different shot of the Pluto’s plains area.


Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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