First New Horizons fly-by images released

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Ice mountains on Pluto

Many cool images! I will only post one, on the right, of the ice mountains seen at the southernmost edge of Tombauh Regio. More can be seen here.

Some quick facts revealed during today’s the press conference:

  • They have gotten good data on Pluto’s atmosphere. Earlier data just before fly-by suggested that there are specific regions on the surface that have a lot of methane, but with different properties depending on location.
  • They have found that the surface of Charon is active. It also looks like a weird Moon, cratered, with a dark mare region they have dubbed Mordor. Its cause however is not the same as the Moon. There are also a large sequence of troughs and cliffs that are unlike other planets. Some areas are very smooth, as they they have been repaved after cratering. And there is a canyon that is very very deep, 3 miles deep, that makes it relatively deeper than any other canyon in the solar system.
  • Pluto’s moon Hydra is not spherical, and in fact looks like an asteroid.
  • The white heart is now been named Tombaugh Regio after one of Pluto’s discoverers. In its southern extent there are mountains and strange pits. And this area has no impact craters, meaning this is a very young surface, less than 100 million years old. The mountains have to made of ice, which is essentially the only thing that can be bedrock at Pluto’s temperatures, based on what they think Pluto is composed of.
  • The data shows repeatedly that a tiny planet can still have geological activity after billions of years, even without a giant gas giant nearby to produce tidal heating.
  • They have named the giant whale-shaped dark region at the equator Cthulu Regio.

The data and images will be coming back from New Horizons for the next year, so the show is certainly not over.

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