The heart-shaped region along Pluto’s equator has been the darling of NASA’s New Horizons mission, but it’s the north polar region that gets the love in this week’s featured image.
The area seen here is part of a region informally known as Lowell Regio. That’s a tribute to Percival Lowell, the millionaire astronomer who sparked the search that eventually led to Pluto’s discovery.
Toward the left side of the image, there’s a canyon that measures about 45 miles wide. Other canyons, to the east and west, are about 6 miles wide. These formations hint at tectonic activity in ancient times, according to the New Horizons science team.
Near the lower right corner, there are irregularly shaped pits that span as much as 45 miles. The science team says those pits are about 2.5 miles deep, and may indicate locations where subsurface ice has been lost from below. That would have caused the surface layer to collapse into the void.
The higher elevations have more of a yellowish cast in this enhanced-color image, while the lower elevations are more bluish-gray. Infrared readings suggest that the region has lots of methane ice, but not so much nitrogen ice.
“One possibility is that the yellow terrains may correspond to other methane deposits that have been more processed by solar radiation than the bluer terrain,” the Lowell Observatory’s Will Grundy, who leads the New Horizons mission’s composition team, said in NASA’s image advisory.
The bottom line is that the north pole, like Pluto’s heart, suggest the dwarf planet’s geology is a lot more active than scientists would have expected before last July’s flyby. And there’s more to come: More than half of the data collected during the flyby still has to be transmitted back to Earth.