At a press conference today Alan Stern led off by dubbing Pluto-Charon as a “double planet system”. Some new results:
- Tombaugh Regio (the heart) has been identified as a region of carbon monoxide.
- The atmosphere extends out to about 600 miles. It is comprised of hydrocarbosn, methane, and nitrogen, with nitrogen the main component. It is naturally escaping from the planet, ionized by the solar wind. The consequence is that a substantial amount of Pluto has evaporated away over time. The numbers are not yet quantified, but will be as more data arrives.
- The images once again suggest significant activity over time, both of erosion and tectonic processes. One flat plain, dubbed Sputnik Planum, is what one scientist described as “difficult to explain terrain.” The image is to the right. Some of its features resemble icecap glaciers, which are formed by processes that do not exist on Pluto. There also appear to be wind streaks on this planum!
- They have named a mile high mountain has been dubbed Norgay Montes after the man who accompanied Edmund Hillary to the summit of Mt. Everest.
As the scientists warned today, every conclusion right now is very speculative, and should be taken with a very big grain of salt.
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