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5:54pm, November 9, 2015

OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD LANDSCAPE The latest data from the New Horizons mission has helped create topographical maps of Pluto (blue shows lower elevations, brown, higher elevations) that have revealed surprises such as these two possible ice volcanoes, the first of their kind in the outer solar system.

 

OXON HILL, Md. — At this point, the only thing unsurprising about Pluto is that it continues to offer up surprises.

 

A wide variety of landscapes, ongoing surface transformations and a family of wildly spinning moons are among the riddles reported by the New Horizons mission team November 9 at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences.

 

“Pluto is like a graduate course in planetary science,” mission leader Alan Stern said at a news briefing. “It’s going to take the larger planetary science community many years to digest all this.”

 

The New Horizons spacecraft, which buzzed the dwarf planet on July 14, has so far sent back only about 20 percent of the data it acquired from the Pluto system. And every new nugget continues a story that’s pretty familiar by now: Pluto is a weird place.

 

Terrains both new and old sit side-by-side on Pluto’s surface. Some heavily cratered regions are roughly 4 billion years old, about as old as Pluto itself. Others, like the now famous heart, appear to have been laid down within the last 10 million years, judging by the total lack of craters.

 

 

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