The New Horizons interplanetary space probe has sent back some of its highest-resolution images of the dwarf planet’s surface. However, one photo is gaining attention due to a strange “snail-like” object that seemingly slides across the icy planet’s surface. The strange image was transmitted to Earth on December 24.
The Daily Mail reports that a strange object in the shape of a snail was found in one of the high resolution image sent back to Earth by the New Horizons space probe. The image shows the icy white plane of Pluto along with a darker object appearing in the shape of a snail that is gliding across the surface. Though the dark object is shaped oddly, NASA officials say the object is nothing more than a dirty block of ice.
— TechEBlog (@techeblog) January 9, 2016
NASA reported that the area of Pluto that is marked with an “X” was particularly interesting as the images were taken from the icy plain to the left side of Pluto’s “heart feature.”
“‘X’ marks the spot of some intriguing surface activity in the latest picture of Pluto returned from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft.”
The snail-like dirty ice block floating over the surface appears to be proof of the fact that this area of Pluto acts as a sort of “lava lamp” because it isn’t completely flat and has slow thermal convection due to the nitrogen-dominated ices in the region.
“This part of Pluto is acting like a lava lamp, if you can imagine a lava lamp as wide as, and even deeper than, the Hudson Bay.”
Another interesting feature in the “snail” full image is the prominent “X” feature located to the right of the dirty ice block. This “X” was created by a former quadruple junction where four convection cells meet, according to researchers studying the images. Other convection cell meeting areas can be seen in the photo forming a variety of patterns.
The Pluto snail image isn’t the only incredible image taken by the New Horizons flyby of the icy dwarf planet. Numerous other high resolution photos were also sent back to Earth that show the icy cratered plains of the distant planet in striking detail.
This video, compiled by NASA, shows the sharpest views of Pluto obtained by the New Horizons spacecraft. The images are noted as being from a sequence of photographs taken near New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto. The resolutions of the images are about 250-280 feet-per-pixel. Considering that Pluto is a staggering 2.66 billion miles away from earth, images as close as 250-feet are rather impressive.
Another interesting photo of Pluto taken by the New Horizons spacecraft is the Viking Terra area.
“Among the features scientists find particularly interesting are the bright methane ices that condensed on many crater rims; the collection of dark red tholins (small soot-like particles generated from reactions involving methane and nitrogen in the atmosphere) in low areas, like the bottoms of craters; and the layering on the faces of steep cliffs and on crater walls.”
With so many interesting features on the icy planet, scientists will surely have a lot to look at as more images from the New Horizons spacecraft are analyzed. Many of the photos have confirmed things that scientists previously speculated about the planet, while others such as the strange snail formations and bright methane ices came as more of a surprise.
What do you think about the amazing new high resolution photos from the New Horizons spacecraft? Are you looking forward to the release of additional high resolution Pluto images in the near future?
[Imag via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI]