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Monday 29 May 2017
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New Horizons probe zooms into Pluto’s plains

New Horizons probe zooms into Pluto’s plains

A region, which has been named after the Soviet Sputnik satellite, displays a flat terrain broken up into polygons.At the edges of these 20-30km-wide features are troughs filled with dark material and even small mounds.Scientists say it could be evidence of the surface bulging due to gentle heating coming from below.

But it could just as easily be the result of some contraction process as materials vaporise into the atmosphere – not unlike how mud cracks form on Earth.Science team members say they are trying not to jump to early conclusions in their interpretations – certainly, not until they get more data down from the spacecraft.

“When I first saw the image of Sputnik plain I decided I was going to call it ‘not easy to explain terrain’,” said Jeff Moore, who leads the geology, geophysics and imaging team on New Horizons.At a media briefing at Nasa HQ in Washington DC, the mission team also showed a first picture of Nix, one of Pluto’s smaller moons.

It is not particularly well resolved, being only about 15 pixels in the longest dimension. Nonetheless, researchers can now get a good sense of its shape and size (roughly 40km across).”Let’s set out expectations properly,” said lead scientist Alan Stern. “As little as three months ago, we didn’t have pictures of Pluto this good!”


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