The first ever high-resolution image of Pluto has been beamed back to Earth showing water ice and 11,000ft (3,350 metre) mountains. The mountains likely formed no more than 100 million years ago – mere youngsters relative to the 4.56-billion-year age of the solar system. Nasa says they may still be in the process of building
Like the rest of Pluto, this region would presumably have been pummeled by space debris for billions of years and would have once been heavily cratered – unless recent activity had given the region a facelift, erasing those pockmarks.
‘We now have an isolated small planet that is showing activity after 4.5 billion years,’ said Alan Stern, New Horizons’ principal investigator. ‘It’s going to send a lot of geophysicists back to the drawing board.’
‘This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,’ added Jeff Moore of New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI).
This is the first time astronomers have seen a world that is mostly composed of ice that is not orbiting a planet.
Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by the gravitational pull of a larger planetary body. Nasa says some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.
‘This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds,’ says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute.
In a Wednesday press conference, scientists also revealed a high-resolution photo of Pluto’s moon Charon, which is covered in cliffs and ridges:
They also released the first-ever photo of Pluto’s tiny moon Hydra, which appears to be covered in water ice:
A new sneak-peak image of Hydra is the first to reveal its apparent irregular shape and its size, estimated to be about 27 by 20 miles (43 by 33km). The surface shows differences in brightness, which suggests that Hydra’s outer layer is composed manly of water ice .
Read more: Daily Mail