'Blowing my mind': Peaks on Pluto, canyons on Charon

July 16, 2015 byMarcia Dunn
This Tuesday, July 14, 2015 image provided by NASA on Wednesday shows a region near Pluto's equator with a range of mountains captured by the New Horizons spacecraft. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Mankind's first close-up look at Pluto did not disappoint Wednesday: The pictures showed ice mountains on Pluto about as high as the Rockies and chasms on its big moon Charon that appear six times deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Especially astonishing to scientists was the total absence of impact craters in a zoom-in shot of one otherwise rugged slice of Pluto. That suggests that Pluto is not the dead ice ball many people think, but is instead geologically active even now, its surface sculpted not by collisions with cosmic debris but by its internal heat, the scientific team reported.

Breathtaking in their clarity, the long-awaited images were unveiled in Laurel, Maryland, home to mission operations for NASA's New Horizons, the unmanned spacecraft that paid a history-making flyby visit to the on Tuesday after a journey of 9½ years and 3 billion miles (4.8 billion kilometers).

"I don't think any one of us could have imagined that it was this good of a toy store," principal scientist Alan Stern said at a news conference. He marveled: "I think the whole system is amazing. ... The Pluto system IS something wonderful."

As a tribute to Pluto's discoverer, Stern and his team named the bright heart-shaped area on the surface of Pluto the Tombaugh Reggio. American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh spied the frozen, faraway world on the edge of the solar system in 1930.

Thanks to New Horizons, scientists now know Pluto is a bit bigger than thought, with a diameter of 1,473 miles (2,370 kilometers), but still just two-thirds the size of Earth's moon. And it is most certainly not frozen in time.

'Blowing my mind': Peaks on Pluto, canyons on Charon
This Tuesday, July 14, 2015 image provided by NASA on Wednesday shows Pluto's largest moon, Charon, made by the New Horizons spacecraft. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP)

The zoom-in of Pluto, showing an approximately 150-mile (241- kilometer) swath of the dwarf planet, reveals a mountain range about 11,000 feet (3,353 meters) high and tens of miles wide. Scientists said the peaks—seemingly pushed up from Pluto's subterranean bed of ice—appeared to be a mere 100 million years old. Pluto itself is 4.5 billion years old.

"Who would have supposed that there were ice mountains?" project scientist Hal Weaver said. "It's just blowing my mind."

John Spencer, like Stern a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, called it "just astonishing" that the first close-up picture of Pluto didn't have a single impact crater. Stern said the findings suggesting a geologically active interior are going to "send a lot of geophysicists back to the drawing boards."

"It could be a game-changer" in how scientists look at other frozen worlds in the Kuiper Belt on the fringes of our solar system, Spencer said. Charon, too, has a surprisingly youthful look and could be undergoing geologic activity.

"We've tended to think of these midsize worlds ... as probably candy-coated lumps of ice," Spencer said. "This means they could be equally diverse and be equally amazing if we ever get a spacecraft out there to see them close up."

This July 13, 2015 image provided by NASA shows Pluto, seen from the New Horizons spacecraft. The United States is now the only nation to visit every single planet in the solar system. Pluto was No. 9 in the lineup when New Horizons departed Cape Canaveral, Fla, on Jan. 19, 2006 (NASA via AP)

The heat that appears to be shaping Pluto may be coming from the decay of radioactive material normally found in planetary bodies, the scientists said. Or it could be coming from energy released by the gradual freezing of an underground ocean.

As for Charon, which is about half the size of Pluto, its canyons look to be 3 miles to 6 miles deep and are part of a cluster of troughs and cliffs stretching 600 miles (965 kilometers), or about twice the length of the Grand Canyon, scientists said.

'Blowing my mind': Peaks on Pluto, canyons on Charon
This Tuesday, July 14, 2015 image provided by NASA on Wednesday shows one of Pluto's five moons, Hydra, about 27 miles (43 kilometers) by 20 miles (33 kilometers) wide, made by the New Horizons spacecraft. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI via AP)

The Charon photo was taken Monday. The Pluto picture was shot just 1½ hours before the spacecraft's moment of closest approach. New Horizons swept to within 7,700 miles (12,391 kilometers) of Pluto during its flyby. It is now 1 million miles (1.61 million kilometers) beyond it.

'Blowing my mind': Peaks on Pluto, canyons on Charon
This Monday, July 13, 2015 combination image released by NASA shows Pluto, left, and its moon, Charon, with differences in surface material and features depicted in exaggerated colors made by using different filters on a camera aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. In this composite false-color image, the apparent distance between the two bodies has also been reduced. (NASA/APL/SwRI via AP)

Up until this week, the best pictures of Pluto were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and they were blurry, pixelated images.

Scientists promised even better pictures for the next news briefing on Friday. Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory is in charge of the $720 million mission.

Explore further: Ready for its close-up: First spacecraft to explore Pluto

More information: NASA: www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/
Johns Hopkins University: pluto.jhuapl.edu

Related Stories

Pluto's close-ups to offer high-resolution views

July 15, 2015

Pluto's surface has long been a blur to sky watchers on Earth, but a NASA spacecraft on Wednesday should provide the first high-resolution images of the distant dwarf planet after a historic flyby mission.

NASA craft discovers heart shape on Pluto as flyby nears

July 12, 2015

There's a near-perfect heart shape on Pluto's rusty red surface which scientists are seeing for the first time as a piano-sized NASA spacecraft, New Horizons, hurtles toward the distant body on its way toward a historic flyby ...

Recommended for you

New space industry emerges: on-orbit servicing

November 17, 2018

Imagine an airport where thousands of planes, empty of fuel, are left abandoned on the tarmac. That is what has been happening for decades with satellites that circle the Earth.

SpaceX gets nod to put 12,000 satellites in orbit

November 16, 2018

SpaceX got the green light this week from US authorities to put a constellation of nearly 12,000 satellites into orbit in order to boost cheap, wireless internet access by the 2020s.

Electric blue thrusters propelling BepiColombo to Mercury

November 16, 2018

In mid-December, twin discs will begin glowing blue on the underside of a minibus-sized spacecraft in deep space. At that moment Europe and Japan's BepiColombo mission will have just come a crucial step closer to Mercury.

47 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

wduckss
4 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2015
Indeed, the appearance of Pluto and his moon is a surprise.
First we are underestimate significant influence of gravity in the dual system (increasing geological processes). The second is the (possible) a overlooked that the events in inclined orbit and distance from the sun are significantly reduced.
docile
Jul 16, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
4.7 / 5 (12) Jul 16, 2015
I dunno, why the NASA astronomers are so obsessed to demonstrate, that the Pluto is dynamic world with fresh mountains and plumes.

Obsessed? What do you even mean by that?
They are reporting facts and speculations based on first impressions. No one at NASA cares one wet fart whether Pluto has the label planet or not. That doesn't matter anything to anyobody.
docile
Jul 16, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
docile
Jul 16, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
javjav
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2015
What is shame is not to have more images of the other side, which had the most intriguing features. I propose this: Fly-by probes like this may have a slave nanoprobe to observe the other side. In just few kilograms (1% to 2% of the weight of main probe) you can pack a decent lens, a small battery for few hours, a gyroscope and a smartphone style computer and antenna to send the images to the main probe. No engine and no fuel.
A few weeks/months before the fly-by, release the nanoprobe with a spring or pyrotechnics to push it backwards, to make it arrive half a day later (3.2 earth days = half a day on pluto), when the planet shows the other side in good lighting conditions, or even adjust the heading in the desired direction a bit before releasing it (before last manoeuvre). The slave nanoprobe could not do as much science as the main probe, but at least the high resolution images are granted
antialias_physorg
4.1 / 5 (13) Jul 16, 2015
We'll see - for me it's just a training in doing of predictions and searching for emergent motivations

No - you just fit the 'data' to whatever you want to believe in the first place. You are religious. You have a god and everything must fit to that the will of that god - and that god (in your mind) is you.

And (naturally) you assume that other people are like you. But they are not. You are an exception (and not in agood way. More in the pathopsychological way). And until/unless you realize that you are not normal you will never understand the scientific mind or how science works.
docile
Jul 16, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
docile
Jul 16, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
xstos
3.4 / 5 (8) Jul 16, 2015
We'll see - for me it's just a training in doing of predictions and searching for emergent motivations

No - you just fit the 'data' to whatever you want to believe in the first place. You are religious. You have a god and everything must fit to that the will of that god - and that god (in your mind) is you.

And (naturally) you assume that other people are like you. But they are not. You are an exception (and not in agood way. More in the pathopsychological way). And until/unless you realize that you are not normal you will never understand the scientific mind or how science works.


Well said. This article is quite illustrative of the indoctrinated mind:

http://www.slate....gle.html
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (8) Jul 16, 2015
You should employ some other, different way - well, and the most different way is simply the opposite, dual way.

Most different is not best.
Just because it is useful to start of in the direction of your goal when searching for the best path doesn't mean that it's sensible to start walking in the OPPOSITE direction of where you're looking in search for a better pathing algorithm. It's just dumb.

To get something better you have to have an idea that
a) looks at where the original model fails
b) redresses that problem
and c) (and this is most important) is at least as good at as the old strategy in all circumstances.

Since you started posting here you have NEVER shown c), been consistently getting b) wrong, and almost always failed in your analyis of where there is a)

That's the reason why to date not a single other poster has been impressed by what you write.
ayesdi_fdesay
4.6 / 5 (11) Jul 16, 2015
It would be nice if the comments section for each article could be split into two tabs, one for scientific discussions and the other for pseudo-science and religion. Unfortunately that would require a lot of moderation--it's difficult enough to get spam deleted here.
JustAnotherGuy
4.4 / 5 (7) Jul 16, 2015
@docile
...obsessed to demonstrate, that the Pluto is dynamic world with fresh mountains and plumes. For to reestablish its status as a planet...


The links below are the IAU definitions for a planet:
(a) is in orbit around the Sun,
(b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces
so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and
(c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

I don't know how do you manage to make such deduction. Neither 'geologically active' nor the oposite do satisfy definition.

http://www.iau.or...s/pluto/
http://www.iau.or...-5-6.pdf
Returners
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 16, 2015
None of the major planets meet the third condition either, so it makes no sense that any of them are called "planets".
JustAnotherGuy
3.9 / 5 (7) Jul 16, 2015
@Returners
I suppose you refer those asteroids orbiting between the gas giants. Seem to be those are addressed on last category:
(3) All other objects,except satellites, orbiting the Sun shall be referred to
collectively as "Small Solar System Bodies".

Condition (c) is rather ambiguous... unless this is taken into account only for celestial bodies that have already satisfied conditions (a) and (b).
bluehigh
1 / 5 (6) Jul 16, 2015
No one at NASA cares one wet fart whether Pluto has the label planet or not. That doesn't matter anything to anyobody.
- AA (dribbling nonsense)

>> In a live interview on Nasa TV on Tuesday, Charles Bolden, Nasa's chief administrator, said he hoped the scientists would reconsider the name. "I call it a planet, but I'm not the rule maker," he said.
shavera
4.6 / 5 (11) Jul 16, 2015
NASA, and most astro and physics scientists have an *opinion* on Pluto's status, but I doubt any one of them actually care enough about their opinion to create policy over it. That's what "no one cares/ doesn't matter to anybody" means.
bluehigh
1 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2015
If Charles Bolden did Not care enough about his *opinion* then he would Not be expressing his *opinion* to the media.

The way things work is that he cares enough to say something and maybe hopes to influence those that can and do create policy.

What this really means is you and AA are wrong but are too proud to admit your mistake.

gkam
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 16, 2015
Did any of you see the guy in the back of the room in the dark suit? He is a federal officer still looking for Jimmy Hoffa.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2015
Did any of you see the guy in the back of the room in the dark suit? He is a federal officer still looking for Jimmy Hoffa.

Or El Chapo...
docile
Jul 16, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
cantdrive85
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 16, 2015
'Blowing my mind':

So much for the predictive power of planetary science

Peaks on Pluto, canyons on Charon


If one considered the EDM angle, the material excavated to create Charon's canyons could very well have resulted in the mountains on Pluto.
Robert_D
not rated yet Jul 16, 2015
They spelled "regio" wrong. I finally found this through Yahoo search: https://en.wiktio...ki/regio
rossim22
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2015
Does anyone know why the scientists have determined the mountains are made of ice? I can't find any info on it.
TechnoCreed
3 / 5 (2) Jul 16, 2015
No post
NIPSZX
not rated yet Jul 16, 2015
Pluto looks like an avocado seed.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (7) Jul 16, 2015
Does anyone know why the scientists have determined the mountains are made of ice? I can't find any info on it.

John Spencer gives an answer to that starting at the 20th minute of the linked video. https://www.youtu...daOhG9wE Of course it is still very speculative but Pluto's density does not gives much latitude for anithing else.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (2) Jul 16, 2015
They spelled "regio" wrong. I finally found this through Yahoo search: https://en.wiktio...ki/regio

This is in the planetary nomenclature of the IAU as a feature type, so it is the only spelling accepted by the IAU. https://en.wikipe...nclature
jonesdave
3 / 5 (12) Jul 16, 2015
Does anyone know why the scientists have determined the mountains are made of ice? I can't find any info on it.

Does anyone know why the pseudoscience cranks believe comets are made of rock? I can't find any evidence of it.
Unless somebody would like to provide some. Given that that isn't going to happen, how do crank science believers get through the day? Thornhil (who?) tells them they are right, or they have an undying belief in Velikovsky.
Evidence of this nonsense would be good, not to mention novel. Not holding my breath.
mreda14
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2015
One can definetly not speculate but confirm that pluto was hit by many meteorites. At least small ones. The heat of the impact and burning of the meteorite melted the surrounding ice and covered the site of the impact.
Captain Stumpy
4.3 / 5 (6) Jul 16, 2015
I just understand, how the scientific mind works - so I'm systematically utilizing the dual approach in an effort to utilize holes in scientific paradigm. What you consider as my stupidity is my systematical paradigm
@ZEPHIRTROLL
so you say... well then, as you have a system, you can show or give a methodical demonstration... or perhaps just elucidate the method you use, as well as how you account for noise and determine what is considered paradigm and what is considered non-paridigm?

as this is a Psych system, it must contain criteria for inclusion or dismissal, as well as noise. this is sufficient for initial psych classifications but after that, there is a specific methodology required for distribution of data as well as classification which allows for blind judgement for classification while segregation is acquired to insure non-biased fidelity.

this insures the non-biased promotion of facts over simple "hunches" and BS, like you posted above
Enthusiastic Fool
5 / 5 (5) Jul 17, 2015
@ Captain Stumpy

I think you missed his underlying message:

...stupidity is my systematical paradigm.

~docile
ca. July 2015
FredJose
1.8 / 5 (15) Jul 17, 2015
@anti-alias
No - you just fit the 'data' to whatever you want to believe in the first place. You are religious. You have a god and everything must fit to that the will of that god ...

Strangely, anti, you do exactly the same. You too are religious in the way you accept without question and full of faith the idea that the solar system is 4.5 billion years old.
As a result, you cannot explain why it is that a very isolated solar body that is smaller than our moon still has enough heat left after the supposed 4.5Ga to still be geologically active.
The only explanation you or any materialistic/naturalistic scientist will be able to come up with will seem like magic - full of speculation with no substantiating facts - because you ignore the simplest, most direct and most straight-forward explanation: Pluto is in existence for far fewer than 100k years.
Your religion cannot accept that explanation so you have to denigrate and insult anyone who dares to think differently than you.
Vietvet
3.8 / 5 (13) Jul 17, 2015
@FreddyJ

It's hard to post the worst comment of the day at PO, there is lots of competition but you're the winner by a mile.
rossim22
2.7 / 5 (6) Jul 17, 2015
Does anyone know why the scientists have determined the mountains are made of ice? I can't find any info on it.

Does anyone know why the pseudoscience cranks believe comets are made of rock? I can't find any evidence of it.
Unless somebody would like to provide some. Given that that isn't going to happen, how do crank science believers get through the day? Thornhil (who?) tells them they are right, or they have an undying belief in Velikovsky.
Evidence of this nonsense would be good, not to mention novel. Not holding my breath.


Who are you even arguing with? Apparently you have some beef with the Thunderbolts team, since your babble has nothing to do with anything I ever type.

I've seen numerous mentions of "ice mountains" and would just like to know how they made that observation/presumption. There is no need for your adolescent insults.
rossim22
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 17, 2015
of course it's still speculative but Pluto's density does not give much latitude for anithing else.


Thank you very much for the response TechnoCreed.
jsdarkdestruction
4.1 / 5 (9) Jul 17, 2015
tThe only explanation you or any materialistic/naturalistic scientist will be able to come up with will seem like magic - full of speculation with no substantiating facts - because you ignore the simple and most straight-forward explanation: Pluto is in existence for far fewer than 100k years.

I would like to hear more about this straight forward explanation.What scientific evidence do you have for it? No speculation or supernatural/magic entities please.
antialias_physorg
4.1 / 5 (13) Jul 17, 2015
As a result, you cannot explain why it is that a very isolated solar body that is smaller than our moon still has enough heat left after the supposed 4.5Ga to still be geologically active.

There's quite a number of possible explanations that can generate heat in such a small body even after all this time. It just depends on what is inside (radioactive material? A liquid body that is in the process of freezing?)
Then there's sources of heat that don't need to be around for that long (tidal heating or residual heat from a large impactor)

And these are just some I can come up with off the cuff without being particularly versed in astronomy.

Pluto is in existence for far fewer than 100k years.

And this outrageous statement is based exactly on what? I mean if you accuse us all of 'religious belief' I'm sure you have some hard evidence to back this up.

Hic Rhodus, hic salta.
Stevepidge
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 17, 2015
Pluto has very little evidence of impact craters, much less evidence of large impactors. Pluto's atmosphere at surface is a whopping 3 microbars making it roughly .000003 percent of Earth's.

Also according to Emily Lakdwalla
"impacts at Pluto's distance from the Sun happen between cold bodies with low density that aren't moving very fast (at least, not compared to the Earth-Moon impact)."


Also
So at present, there's no energy being generated in Pluto or Charon through tides. But in the past, there COULD'VE been quite a lot of waste heat from tidal dissipation.


So you have to SPECULATE gravitational capture, however electrical capture happens rather quickly. SO where are the craters? Why are there mountains on Pluto and huge canyons on Charon much larger than earth? You have no clue.
Returners
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 18, 2015
To be fair, the difference in temperature between methane ice and methane gas, or nitrogen ice, liquid nitrogen, and nitrogen gas is more than an order of magnitude smaller than the difference in temperature between magma and solid rock of the same composition...so temperature variations needed to drive the geology or weather on Pluto and Charon are actually not as large as the required temperature variations to do similar things on Earth. Also, because surface gravity is so much lower, it takes much less energy to uplift the same mass, such as those mountains, than it would take to do it on Earth.
Returners
2.1 / 5 (7) Jul 18, 2015
"1" me idjits.

My opinions are not rooted in apealing to your positive affirmation. I care about facts, not "Likes".

Poor, poor fools even bothering to "1" me, as if I actually care.

lol.

I actually find it funny how many people are dumb enough to actually bother to stop and down-vote me.
Captain Stumpy
4.6 / 5 (9) Jul 18, 2015
"1" me idjits.

My opinions are not rooted in apealing to your positive affirmation. I care about facts, not "Likes".
@returners

if you care about facts, why is it that your posts are filled with unsubstantiated conjecture, personal opinion, anecdotal and unvalidated claims, delusional beliefs (like that abduction you ranted about recently) or the pseudoscience of the above?

all that posting and there is not one validated claim! IOW- NO FACTS
i suggest you learn some physics: http://ocw.mit.ed...=physics

then publish a paper that proves your above rant/posts

until then:

42
JustAnotherGuy
4.2 / 5 (10) Jul 18, 2015
"I actually find it funny how many people are dumb enough to actually bother to stop and down-vote me."

Internet troll's motto?

Enthusiastic Fool
5 / 5 (6) Jul 19, 2015
"1" me idjits.
Poor, poor fools even bothering to "1" me, as if I actually care.


You actually cared so much you needed to point it out. This is like adolescent psychology. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks"
Returners
1 / 5 (6) Jul 19, 2015
Captain Stumpy:

I was not "abducted" by the Alien, nor was I ranting.

The alien did not harm me in any way.

Moreover, to be sure, I learned more from the Alien than it learned from me.

For example:
They are in fact telepathic, but their eyes, though larger than human eyes, aren't as large relative to head size as the stereotypical "grey" drawn on conspiracy programs, like ancient aliens.

Rockguy
3.9 / 5 (7) Jul 19, 2015
Really amazing pictures, too bad we have to wait 16 months to get it all!

Btw my ignore/troll list grew by leaps and bounds from this discussion. I do have to say though, the explanations debunking the trolls has been a great learning tool for understanding pseudo science from actual science
FredJose
1 / 5 (5) Jul 21, 2015
@Anti-alias, jsdarkwhatever and Returners:
Pluto doesn't get enough sunlight to absorb any significant amount of energy to drive volcanic/geologic activity. Furthermore, it isn't in any orbit around a significant planet to induce tidal heating. Lastly, it's density is so low as to indicate that heating cannot be derived from a radioactive core (much higher density required). What this means is that if Pluto is supposedly 4.6 billion years old, it would have lost all of its heat to space by this time since it is so small. In fact this is exactly the reason why scientists were so completely blown away by the geologic activity. That leaves the best explanation for such activity to be the fact that Pluto is in fact much, much younger than 4.6 billion years. My estimate is less than 100k years for this small body to exhibit such available heat. The only other explanations that are available at the moment - given the 4.6 billion years assumption - are based on sheer speculative miracles.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.