The Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera on NASA’s New Horizons has acquired a fresh photo of Pluto’s surface, revealing a new mountain range on the dwarf planet. This is the second discovery of its kind after scientists found icy mountains in the first photos of Pluto delivered by the spacecraft, following its July 14 flyby.
According to NASA, the newly discovered mountain range is located on the lower-left edge of Pluto’s bright, heart-shaped region called “Tombaugh Regio.” Scientists estimate these frozen peaks to be about 1-mile high, which is about the same height as the Appalachian Mountains in eastern North America. The icy mountains, previously discovered by New Horizons on July 15, were nearly as high as the Rocky Mountains, a major mountain range in western North America.
"There is a pronounced difference in texture between the younger, frozen plains to the east and the dark, heavily-cratered terrain to the west," Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA, said in a statement on Tuesday. “There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand.”
Scientists believe that Pluto’s icy mountains on the brighter region likely formed less than 100 million years ago, while the darker region probably dates back to billions of years. The new image was taken on July 14 from a distance of 48,000 miles and sent back to Earth on Monday.
“With the flyby in the rearview mirror, a decade-long journey to Pluto is over -- but, the science payoff is only beginning,” Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. “Data from New Horizons will continue to fuel discovery for years to come.”
Here is an animated flyby of Pluto's mountains and plains: