The jagged shores of Pluto's highlands

The jagged shores of Pluto’s highlands
Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

This enhanced color view from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft zooms in on the southeastern portion of Pluto's great ice plains, where at lower right the plains border rugged, dark highlands informally named Krun Macula. (Krun is the lord of the underworld in the Mandaean religion, and a 'macula' is a dark feature on a planetary surface.)

Pluto is believed to get its dark red color from tholins, complex molecules found across much of the surface. Krun Macula rises 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) above the surrounding plain – informally named Sputnik Planum – and is scarred by clusters of connected, roughly circular pits that typically reach between 5 and 8 miles (8 and 13 kilometers) across, and up to 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) deep.

At the boundary with Sputnik Planum, these pits form deep valleys reaching more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) long, 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) wide and almost 2 miles (3 kilometers) deep – almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona – and have floors covered with nitrogen ice.  New Horizons scientists think these pits may have formed through surface collapse, although what may have prompted such a collapse is a mystery.  

This scene was created using three separate observations made by New Horizons in July 2015. The right half of the image is composed of 260 feet- (80 meter-) per-pixel data from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), obtained at 9,850 miles (15,850 kilometers) from Pluto, about 23 minutes before New Horizons' closest approach.  The left half is composed of 410 feet- (125 meter-) per-pixel LORRI data, obtained about six minutes earlier, with New Horizons 15,470 miles (24,900 kilometers) from Pluto. 

These data respectively represent portions of the highest- and second-highest-resolution observations obtained by New Horizons in the Pluto system. The entire scene was then colorized using 2,230 feet- (680 meter-) per-pixel data from New Horizons' Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC), obtained at 21,100 miles (33,900 kilometers) from Pluto, about 45 minutes before closest approach.

The jagged shores of Pluto’s highlands
This dramatic image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows the dark, rugged highlands known as Krun Macula (lower right), which border a section of Pluto’s icy plains. Click on the image and zoom in for maximum detail. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

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Jun 10, 2016
The distribution in the pockmarks (dunes?) on the left side of the image is fascinating. Looks like they're following a large scale stress/strain pattern (more dense part of the formations)
They're not impact craters since none of them are overlapping. The absence of impact craters also means that this is a very young formation. The regions without the markings/little markings should be the youngest ones.

Pluto seems to be a lot more active than anyone suspected.

Awesome to see the payoff of such a long shot mission be so interesting. It could have been that all we get is "just another barren rock with pockmarks"

Jun 10, 2016
Hell for Trypophobics

Jun 10, 2016
aa_po's comment makes me wonder. Were we fortunate that it isn't such or is that telling us something about TNOs? Someone please do correct me if I'm conceptualizing this naively, but wouldn't TNOs have much less of a bombardment history than inner solar system objects? They get a lot less solar wind. Perhaps they're all cornucopias of early processes and materials.

I say we need more TNO dedicated missions and that they be used to test new concepts in propulsion!

Jun 10, 2016
They do get some bombardment, Looking at the image I'd guess that some of the features in the right half are craters. The most interesting is the double "half-crater" in the top right (bordering the more uniform area). If the missing parts are missing due to erosion then there's some heavy stuff going on in the more uniform parts.

The number of impacts is also a function of gravity and whether or not there is a companion.
Having a companion of similar size will put the common center of gravity off center or even outside either object and cause a lot of stuff to miss. Charon is pretty 'big' at roughly 10% of the mass of Pluto. (For comparison: Our moon is roughly 1% the mass of Earth)

Jun 10, 2016
The big mystery is how Pluto is still geologically active. It's core should have frozen ages ago and it isn't closely orbiting a Jupiter class planet.

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