The close-up shot of Pluto that's breaking the Internet
NASA made history Tuesday when the spacecraft New Horizons flew past Pluto, the not-a-planet three billion miles away. The accomplishment was huge — they managed to fly New Horizons between Pluto and its moon, Charon, after an almost ten-year journey into space. And the flyby gave us some images that are nothing short of astounding. And one shot in particular is blowing everyone’s minds.
Witness: the closest, high resolution shot of Pluto’s surface ever taken. It reveals icy 11,000-foot high mountains we didn’t know about and could change the way we understand the cosmos at large.
Pluto is home to icy mountains about the same height as the Rockies, and there doesn’t seem to be any impact craters on Pluto’s surface. Since this means the dwarf planet’s rough surface wasn’t formed by impact, scientists suspect the mountains were created by internal heat. So as it turns out, Pluto isn’t just a big floating ball of ice as we once thought. The mountains appear to be about 100 million years old, making them relatively new in Pluto’s 4.5 billion year history.
“We’ve tended to think of these midsize worlds … as probably candy-coated lumps of ice,” Southwest Research Institute scientist John Spencer told the Chicago Tribune. “This means they could be equally diverse and be equally amazing if we ever get a spacecraft out there to see them close up.”
Pluto is also a bit bigger than previously thought, clocking in with a diameter of about 1,473 miles. That’s about two-thirds the size of our moon, so it’s not exactly huge.
At this point, New Horizons is over one million miles past Pluto, so these images are the only shots we’ll get for a while. But these pics should give scientists a lot to go on, and hopefully we’ll understand more about Pluto in the near future. In the meantime, we at least have these amazing images to stare at.