Though NASA’s new Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto on July 14, it is still transmitting data that continues to amaze scientists. Now the U.S. space agency has released spectacular new images that show low-lying haze, ‘majestic’ icy mountains, and sweeping plains on the dwarf planet. The images were captured by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC).
Pluto is more dynamic than we thought
The latest batch of images shows that Pluto is “surprisingly Earth-like” with clear evidence of a process similar to the water cycle on our planet. The distant dwarf planet is more dynamic than we could ever have imagined. Its relatively new surface features active ice flows like glaciers. NASA said that ice on a vast icy plain called Sputnik Planum evaporates into the atmosphere before being redeposited. A panorama showed glaciers flowing back into the icy plain.
New Horizons team member Alan Howard of the University of Virginia said it could be directly compared to the hydrological cycle on Earth, where water evaporates from the oceans, falls back as snow, and returns to the oceans through glacial flow. The images also show maintains that NASA believes to be about 11,000 feet high. New Horizons Principal Investigator Dr Alan Stern said the photos make you feel “as if you are there, at Pluto surveying the landscape for yourself.”
Pluto’s weather changes from day to day
Just minutes after flying past Pluto, New Horizons turned its camera and took pictures of the dwarf planet blocking the sun. The images show dim sunlight scattering through its hazy nitrogen atmosphere. Stretching from near the ground to about 100 kilometers above the surface, about a dozen thin layers of the atmosphere can be seen.
The low-lying hazes hint that weather (yes, weather) on Pluto changes from day to day, pretty much like it does on Earth. Alan Stern called it “a scientific bonanza.” New Horizons is now moving towards the Kuiper Belt region, which contains asteroids, comets, and other icy bodies.