Newest View of Pluto’s Enigmatic Terrains Puzzle NASA

One of the newest images captured by LORRI aboard the New Horizons Spacecraft (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

One of the newest images captured by LORRI aboard the New Horizons Spacecraft (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

New Horizons: Pluto in ‘Even-Higher Resolution’ This Week

NASA just released numerous fresh images of Pluto like we’ve never seen before—and yet again—we at Dark Matter News are near-speechless!

This evening we see strange-looking “snakeskin” mountains, pockmarked dunes made not-of sand, but ICE; we see a new spectral image set of peculiar methane collection points, as well as new dynamic photos revealing Pluto’s array of planetary surface tones. Join us as we investigate these images, one-by-one!

1.) “Snakeskin” Mountains of ‘Tartarus Dorsa’

"In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus Dorsa, rise up along Pluto’s day-night terminator and show intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between. This view, roughly 330 miles (530 kilometers) across, combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14, 2015, and resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers)." (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

“Tartarus Dorsa” taken on July 14th, depicts an area of ‘snakeskin-like’ mountains. (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

Nobody’s quite sure what to call this area yet. Unofficially dubbed, “Tartarus Dorsa,” NASA reveals that Pluto’s odd surface terrain has an almost-‘scaly’ sort-of texture. This photo covers about a 330 mile surface area with simulated color through multi-spectrum cameras aboard New Horizons. It comprises multiple layers of imaging, using separate red, blue and infrared light capture methods. The smallest visible parts of this image are estimated to be about 0.8 miles across.

We used MVIC’s infrared channel to extend our spectral view of Pluto,” said John Spencer, a GGI deputy lead from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “Pluto’s surface colors were enhanced in this view to reveal subtle details in a rainbow of pale blues, yellows, oranges, and deep reds. Many landforms have their own distinct colors, telling a wonderfully complex geological and climatological story that we have only just begun to decode.”

2.) Ice Dunes

"High-resolution images of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just before closest approach on July 14, 2015, reveal features as small as 270 yards (250 meters) across, from craters to faulted mountain blocks, to the textured surface of the vast basin informally called Sputnik Planum. Enhanced color has been added from the global color image. This image is about 330 miles (530 kilometers) across. For optimal viewing, zoom in on the image on a larger screen." (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

Narrow-angle view of an image taken by LORRI aboard the New Horizons Spacecraft (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

This one was captured utilizing the “narrow-angle Long Range Reconnaisance Imager” (or LORRI, for short).  The smallest areas appear 270 yards across in this image, with the total panorama measuring approximately 330 miles wide. These are some of the highest-resolution images of Pluto downlinked to-date from the New Horizons spacecraft.

Here it is a little closer:

igh-resolution images of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just before closest approach on July 14, 2015, are the sharpest images to date of Pluto’s varied terrain—revealing details down to scales of 270 meters. In this 75-mile (120-kilometer) section of the taken from the larger, high-resolution mosaic above, the textured surface of the plain surrounds two isolated ice mountains. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

“High-resolution images of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft just before closest approach on July 14, 2015, are the sharpest images to date of Pluto’s varied terrain—revealing details down to scales of 270 meters. In this 75-mile (120-kilometer) section of the taken from the larger, high-resolution mosaic above, the textured surface of the plain surrounds two isolated ice mountains.” (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

—Just breathtaking.

3.) Peculiar Methane Collection Points

"The Ralph/LEISA infrared spectrometer on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft mapped compositions across Pluto’s surface as it flew by on July 14. On the left, a map of methane ice abundance shows striking regional differences, with stronger methane absorption indicated by the brighter purple colors here, and lower abundances shown in black. Data have only been received so far for the left half of Pluto’s disk. At right, the methane map is merged with higher-resolution images from the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI)." (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

An image map of Pluto’s peculiar high-density methane regions. (NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

For this image, NASA utilized data from a diagnostic device called “The Ralph/LEISA infrared spectrometer” on-board New Horizons in combination with a long-range orbiter (LORRI) to map areas containing higher-densities of methane along Pluto’s surface. What’s so strange about this map? For starters, researchers have discovered that Pluto contains large regions which appear to contain little-or-no methane whatsoever (i.e. Cthulu Regio) versus the methane-abundant areas like Sputnik Planum. Nobody quite understands why methane seems to love the brighter areas of Pluto, in contrast to what one might think about methane collecting toward the center of darker craters.

“It’s like the classic chicken-or-egg problem,” said Will Grundy, New Horizons surface composition team lead from Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. “We’re unsure why this is so, but the cool thing is that New Horizons has the ability to make exquisite compositional maps across the surface of Pluto, and that’ll be crucial to resolving how enigmatic Pluto works.”

4.) Pluto’s Amazing Tonal Spectrum

New images reveal amazing spectrum of tones through blue, red, and infrared cameras aboard NASA's New Horizon's spacecraft. (NASA, JHUAPL, SwRI)

New images reveal an amazing spectrum of tones captured using blue, red, and infrared cameras aboard NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft. (NASA, JHUAPL, SwRI)

According to NASA:

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft captured this high-resolution enhanced color view of Pluto on July 14, 2015. The image combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC). Pluto’s surface sports a remarkable range of subtle colors, enhanced in this view to a rainbow of pale blues, yellows, oranges, and deep reds. Many landforms have their own distinct colors, telling a complex geological and climatological story that scientists have only just begun to decode. The image resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers).  The viewer is encouraged to zoom in on the image on a larger screen to fully appreciate the complexity of Pluto’s surface features.”

What do you think of these exciting new discoveries? Do you think that this could perhaps be one of the most exciting eras of space exploration?

Join in the discussion! Comment, share on Facebook and find us on Twitter, hashtag #DMTalk!

Staff Writer

Leo Ashcraft

A retired broadcast engineer, talk show host, news reporter - I have done everything there is to do in the radio broadcast business. I worked a year in television. I left that as my true passion has always been radio - plus I got tired of hearing - you have a face for radio.. I hope you enjoy my articles! Be sure to share them excessively on facebook - like our page and bug your friends with invites!

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1 Response

  1. Turrets says:

    What’s the deal with the Ice Dunes close-up? I had loaded this page in a tab hours earlier and forgot what it was when I clicked on it. When I returned it was halfway down the page on the image and I thought I was looking at an Earth satellite image. It looks like roads going to and from that triangular mass of rocks. I’m no RCH but it all seems rather peculiar.

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