NASA’s New Horizons has this week released more details about Pluto and its moons. To begin with NASA wanted to show off a newly discovered mountain range near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio.
The image of the second icy mountain to be found was taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 48,000 miles, and was then sent back to Earth on July 20th.
NASA says that the frozen peaks are about one-half mile to one mile high and are located just west of the previously discovered icy plains that have been named the Sputnik Planum, they are also placed next to a large dark equatorial region that has been informally named Cthulhu.
“There is a pronounced difference in texture between the younger, frozen plains to the east and the dark, heavily cratered terrain to the west,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team. “There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand.”
On top of the new close-up pic, NASA also released a photo of two of Pluto’s moons, Nix and Hydra. The image was taken by New Horizons’ Ralph instrument on July 14th, 2015 and were sent to earth on July 18th. New Horizons was about 102,000 miles away from Nix and 143,000 miles away from Hydra when it captured the photo.
Nix and Hydra are the second and third moons to be discovered, joining Charon in the list of discoveries, the two moons are approximately the same size, but are completely different elsewhere.
Nix is sized similarly to a jelly bean and is estimated to be 26 miles long and 22 miles wide, with an overall surface colour that is grey in the image, but with a red tinted region, which NASA say might be a crater.
“Additional compositional data has already been taken of Nix, but is not yet downlinked. It will tell us why this region is redder than its surroundings,” said mission scientist Carly Howett, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. She added, “This observation is so tantalizing, I’m finding it hard to be patient for more Nix data to be downlinked.”
The image also shows Hydra, which has a similar shape to the state of Michigan. Looking at the image it appears that there are at least two large creators on the moon, the upper portion of the moon also looks darker than the rest of Hydra, which could suggest that there is a possible difference in the composition of Hydra’s surface.
Hydra is estimated to be 34 miles long and 25 miles wide.
NASA says that we will also see images of Pluto’s other discovered moons, Styx and Kerberos no later than mid-October.