New images taken by the probe currently surveying Pluto’s system show that the dwarf planet boasts a vast icy plain, complete with ice streams which wholly occupy craters and icy mountains ranges about the height of the Appalachian Mountains. The planet’s equatorial region was also observed to have a particularly crater-filled region. Researchers have dubbed it as the “Cthulhu Regio”, after the famous H.P. Lovecraft god.
Pluto’s atmosphere has a strange haze situated about 160 kilometers above surface, while its air pressure is also dropping at accelerated levels, with the planet moving further from the sun in its orbit. Pluto has a 248-year orbit around our system’s main star, of which it is now going into its more distant phases.
Data sent by the spacecraft until now is estimated to be only 5 percent of what New Horizons managed to record during its historic flyby of Pluto on July 14th, which it reached after a nine year journey started from Cape Canaveral in early 2006.
“It’s really turning out to be just a scientific wonderland. Pluto has a very complicated story to tell, there is a lot of work we need to do to understand this very complicated place” said Alan Stern, lead investigator in the New Horizons mission.
The researchers are already theorizing what govern the planet’s ice flow, and the most probable explanation is heat from within it. Despite the fact that surface temperatures reach minus 380 degrees Celsius, the ice itself and the elements it’s made out of appear to be quite malleable.
Also, the planet’s landscape makes it way more complicated than researchers ever thought from analyzing Hubble images. Despite showing some geological activity which might be current, a couple of parts of Pluto have remained the same for millions of years.
However, scientists will have to wait until getting more significant readings until September, as the craft is schedule to return mostly engineering information until then, focusing totally on the scientific parts afterwards. Researchers are now also interested to calculate whether Pluto’s atmosphere crashes at some point during its orbit around the Sun as previously predicted. However, since most of the data they have received point out to the planet being way more complicated than expected, another unforeseen evolution in this regard would not surprise them anymore.
Image Source: NASA