Last week was a notable one for NASA as its New Horizons spacecraft began sending back stunning shots of Pluto on its trailblazing flyby.
Created from the images taken during New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto on July 14, the animation below shows the planet’s Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) and Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain) on its surface. These features are informally named after Tenzing Norgay, one of the first people to reach Mount Everest’s summit, and Earth’s first artificial satellite, respectively.
The mountains crest 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) above Pluto’s surface and are quite young, NASA estimates, having formed only 100 million years ago.
"This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds," said John Spencer, deputy team leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI), in a press release.
There is also a craterless plain north of Pluto’s mountains that appears to be just as young. "This terrain is not easy to explain," Jeff Moore, the GGI project leader, added. "The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations."
The images were taken using New Horizons’ onboard equipment, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), on July 14. The clarity of LORRI’s photographs is impressive. Snapped from a distance of 77,000 kilometers (48,000 miles), there are features visible on the planet as small as one kilometer across (0.6 miles).