Advertisement

Pluto’s geology is even more complex than we thought

by Brandon Russell | February 13, 2016

Need more Pluto in your life? NASA thinks so. Following last year’s historic flyby, the agency has been poring through mountains of data provided by New Horizons, trying to make sense of the weirdo planet. It has floating hills. It has a familiar looking atmosphere. And its geology is incredibly, surprisingly complex.

We’ve come a long way from thinking Pluto was nothing more than a lonely rock in the outer reaches of our Solar System. It’s still that—but now look at what scientists have learned.

NASA released a new photo of Pluto’s surface that provides an astonishingly detailed breakdown of the planet’s geological complexity. Each color represents a different geological terrain, defined by a texture and morphology: smooth, pitted, craggy, hummocky or rigid, NASA explained.

The various blue and greenish units that fill the center of the map represent different textures seen across Sputnik Planum, from the cellular terrain in the center and north, to the smooth and pitted plains in the south. The black lines represent troughs that mark the boundaries of cellular regions in the nitrogen ice. The purple unit represents the chaotic, blocky mountain ranges that line Sputnik’s western border, and the pink unit represents the scattered, floating hills at its eastern edge.

Studying these different geological variations will give scientists a better understanding of how some of its terrain formed.

“Producing such maps is important for gauging what processes have operated where on Pluto, and when they occurred relative to other processes at work,” NASA said.

More Pluto!

NASA has released a breathtaking new Pluto panorama

Just 15 minutes after its closest approach to Pluto in July, NASA’s New Horizons captured what is now the most beautiful image of the dwarf planet. And that’s saying a lot, because the courageous spacecraft has also sent back some truly spectacular pictures—my favorite is this silhouette after New Horizons successfully made its historic flyby. […]

New Horizons reveals blue skies in latest Pluto image

After a series of breathtaking images of Pluto’s surface, it’s the dwarf planet’s silhouette that’s proving to be the most stunning. NASA’s New Horizons sent back a new color image of Pluto’s atmosphere, and although it looks like viral marketing for the upcoming Rings movie, it actually reveals quite a bit: namely, scientists still know […]

NASA has released a breathtaking image of Pluto’s crescent

NASA has released a stunning new image of Pluto’s crescent, further revealing the beauty of the beast we saw in the panorama in September. What the image lacks in finer details more than makes up for in splendor, presenting a terrific look at the lonely planet as the sun gently kisses its icy surface. Go home, New […]

Gorgeous images reveal Pluto’s “snakeskin” surface

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft continues to amaze with a handful of new photos that provide us with an incredibly detailed look at Pluto’s “snakeskin” surface. The spacecraft made its closest approach to the dwarf planet all the way back on July 14, but it’s still slowly sending back heaps of information, and will continue to do so […]

NASA

Advertisement


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...