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Photographs: Courtesy NASA
Photographs: Courtesy NASA

Nasa’s New Horizons sends more stunning photos of Pluto

The new photos show the icy mountains, streams of frozen nitrogen and foggy hazes which are very similar to earth's Arctic region

Nasa’s New Horizons spacecraft has just sent back more beautiful photos of Pluto. These images, released a few hours ago, were streamed back to Earth even as the spacecraft has moved beyond Pluto. The pervious images released were 4-5 days ago, Mint reported on 14 September. (New photos from Nasa’s New Horizons reveal Pluto’s geological diversity)

The first panorama image shows the icy plains known as the Sputnik Planum in the upper right half, while to the left are a series of mountains called Norgay Montes and Hillary Montes that touch heights of as much as 11,000 ft.

Scientists would perhaps be most interested in the dozen layers of haze visible just above the surface of the Pluto. The image is 1,250km wide and was taken from a distance of 18,000km. This panorama was captured by New Horizons’ wide-angle Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC).

“This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself," said New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains."

Another image closes in on the surface of the planet, while the spacecraft was 18,000km away, to highlight the contrast between the plains and the adjoining mountain ranges. To the west of these plains are the Norgay Montes mountain range, while closer to the skyline we see the Hillary Montes range. This image is just 380km across.

New Horizons’ MVIC image of the Sputnik Planum reveals glaciers flowing back into Sputnik Planum from the ice blanketed region to its east. These are similar to the frozen streams on the margins of ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica. This image provides evidence for a remarkably Earth-like hydrological cycle on Pluto, but with exotic ice compositions, including nitrogen and not water ice.

“We did not expect to find hints of a nitrogen-based glacial cycle on Pluto operating in the frigid conditions of the outer solar system. Pluto is surprisingly Earth-like in this regard, and no one predicted it," said Alan Howard, a member of the mission’s Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

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