NASA on Wednesday released the first high resolution close-up image of Pluto, revealing a small region of massive icy mountains. It is, in a word, stunning. And it’s getting a lot of interesting reactions from the scientific community, not only about Pluto itself, but how we think about icy worlds in our solar system.
Now that NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has successfully flown by Pluto, it’s beginning to share a wealth of new images and information. Today’s image, however, wasn’t even during New Horizons’ closest approach, so even better pictures are still to come; the photo was actually snapped 1.5 hours before its close encounter, or around 478,000 miles from Pluto’s surface.
“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” said Jeff Moore of New Horizon’s Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GG).
While the image gives us a look at the dwarf plane unlike we’ve ever seen, what’s particularly exciting about the image is the range of mountains, some of which are estimated to be over 11,000 feet high—and still growing. Scientists aren’t even sure how these mountains were formed.
“Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body,” NASA said. “Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.” NASA went on to add that the mountains are likely composed of water-ice bedrock.
The mountains, which could still be active today, are estimated to be just 100 millions years old, which is young compared to our solar system’s estimated age of 4.56 billion years. The region above is just one percent of Pluto, so there’s still a lot to comb over. Scientists hope to reveal new images and information over the next 16 months.