The hits just keep on coming from NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto: This week’s stunners include views of the surface that look weirder than the terrain in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” plus a close look at Nix, one of Pluto’s five moons.
During its July 14 flyby, the piano-sized New Horizons spacecraft captured a string of pictures showing the eastern edge of a dark region nicknamed Cthulhu Regio and a potential ice volcano called Wright Mons. You can also see light-colored craters that have been partially filled in with darker material.
“Pluto has greatly exceeded our expectations in diversity of land forms and processes — processes that continue to the present,” New Horizons team member Alan Howard, a planetary scientist from the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, said in Thursday’s update from NASA.
Scientists say they’ve spotted networks of eroded valleys, some of which are reminiscent of the hanging valleys seen in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere on Earth.
The picture of a half-lit Nix, taken from a range of about 14,000 miles, shows more detail than you’d be able to see from the surface of Pluto. The surface is pockmarked with impact craters — making it look like the Martian moon Deimos, or maybe a potato.
— NewHorizons2015 (@NewHorizons2015) December 17, 2015
— New Horizons v2.0 (@NewHorizonsIMG) December 17, 2015
— Kimberly EnnicoSmith (@kennicosmith) December 17, 2015
New Horizons is due to beam back still more pictures from its July 14 encounter over the course of the next year. The mission’s principal investigator, Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, points out that “we’re much less than halfway through transmitting data about the Pluto system to Earth.” Bottom line? Stay tuned for the next episode of Pluto’s travelogue.