Pluto sent what New Horizons astronomers are calling a “love note to Earth” via the team’s extreme long-range space probe on Tuesday, as noted by the San Diego Union-Tribune. The photos have been getting more and more detailed with each passing day.
As pictured below, the large whitish feature on the dwarf planet resembles a great glowing heart. Mountains at the lower left-hand side of the heart feature are so massive that scientists say they rival the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains on Earth. Moreover, they may reveal evidence for water on the surface.
The headlining black-and-white photograph was taken Monday, when the New Horizons space probe was 476,000 miles from Pluto, and obtained by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI, then colorized, per the Los Angeles Times.
The heart is an estimated 1,000 miles wide, and is relatively smooth and devoid of features, unlike our own crater-filled moon, which the NASA team believes could give evidence that geologic processes could periodically refresh Pluto’s surface in much the same way that magma refreshes the surface on Earth.
The team with possibly the most women ever in NASA history (women form one-quarter of the 200 person team, per the Atlantic) has waited nearly 10 years for the images from the unmanned spacecraft. The decade wait was worth it. The images do not disappoint!
Members of the team are still analyzing photos projected over 3 billion miles from the little non-planet, but they have already learned so much in just a few days.
“This is clearly a world where both geology and atmosphere climatology play a role,” New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern in a statement, per the Los Angeles Times.
— CNN (@CNN) July 16, 2015
Since the photos came to light, there has been intense speculation about massive mountains found located near the bottom left of the “heart” of Pluto.
The mountain range at top right, photographed from within 7,800 miles of the Plutonian surface at an unbelievable 30,000 mph, is a brand-new discovery. NASA Astronomers believe the range to be youthful, formed no longer than 100 million years ago in our 4.56 billion-year-old galaxy, massive, and comparable to some of the most impressive ranges here on Earth. At a projected 11,000 feet high, these mountains would make any dwarf planet proud.
“They would stand up respectably against the Rocky Mountains,” claimed New Horizons planetary scientist John Spencer, according to CNN.
USA Today reported that these ice giant mountains may have been created by geysers, or, out-of-this-world as the idea seems, ice volcanoes. As Pluto has previously been thought to be composed of nitrogen ice, methane ice, and carbon monoxide ice, members of the NASA team were quick to point out that ice mountains thousands of feet high definitely hint at the presence of water on the surface.
Not bad for dwarf-planet Pluto, formerly known as “the planet Pluto,” snubbed out so far it got knocked down in status to “asteroid 134340” in 2006 by the Minor Planet Center, per Space.com. One could go so far as to say that this little frozen outcast of planets has been holding out its great warmth on us far-away humans.
Pluto was first discovered in 1930 by Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer whose ashes were on board the New Horizons space probe during the historic flyby, as previously reported via the Inquisitr.
“Our data tomorrow… will have 10 times the resolution of what we see today, and it will knock your socks off,” Stern said.
Well, the virtual socks are definitely off already, thanks to Pluto, the little non-planet that could just win over our world from several billion miles away with just a peek at its heart of mountains.
[Images via NASA]