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Pluto’s geology is even more complex than we thought

by Brandon Russell | February 13, 2016February 13, 2016 3:00 pm PDT

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.

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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...