Pluto sits at 3.67 billion miles from the Sun in a very rocky region called the Edgeworth-Kuiper Belt. Nine years ago NASA launched a spacecraft called New Horizons. Its mission was to fly past Pluto and send back the first ever high resolution images of this mysterious body. This happened on the 14th of July 2015, and the results were astonishing. Until now the best image of Pluto that we had was a group of pixels…and now we have this:
Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
The above image was taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on board New Horizons, and shows a round grey mass with a lighter grey heart-shaped area. This region has been named ‘Tombaugh Reggio’ in honour of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930. The really exciting images from the flyby show never seen before detail of the surface of the dwarf planet.
Image Credit: NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI
It was discovered that there are huge mountain ranges on the planet, with water ice in abundance all over the surface – even the mountains are made of it. There are canyons which drop for miles and a surprise for the scientists – a barely cratered surface, indicating the current surface could be less than 100 million years old. We are waiting for more images to be sent back, due to the huge distances involved it takes time for the data to come down. It is thought it will take around 16 months for us to receive it all, so we have lots to look forward to!
Jasmin Evans is a physics student at the University of Central Lancashire, currently interning with the Ogden Trust doing Science Communication and Outreach.
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