Scientists awed by surface detail from Pluto images: Flowing glaciers, ‘Hillary’ mountains

In its final farewell to Pluto, New Horizons … [sent] an image of exotic ice across the dwarf planet’s surface, revealing signs of recent geologic activity — something scientists hoped to find but didn’t expect.

This image of the southern Sputnik Planum region includes two mountain ranges, and a region where it appears that ancient, heavily-cratered terrain has been invaded by much newer icy deposits. The large crater highlighted in the image is about 30 miles, about the size of the greater Washington, DC area. / NASA

This image of the southern Sputnik Planum region includes two mountain ranges, and a region where it appears that ancient, heavily-cratered terrain has been invaded by much newer icy deposits. The large crater highlighted in the image is about 30 miles, about the size of the greater Washington, DC area. / NASA

‘We’ve only seen surfaces like this on active worlds like Earth and Mars,’ said mission co-investigator John Spencer of SwRI. ‘I’m really smiling.’

The close-up images of ice show fascinating detail within the Texas-sized plain — named Sputnik Planum — that lies within the western half of Pluto’s heart-shaped region, known as Tombaugh Regio.

There, a sheet of ice clearly appears to have flowes, and may still be flowing, in a manner similar to glaciers on Earth. …

‘At Pluto’s temperatures of minus-390 degrees Fahrenheit, these ices can flow like a glacier,’ said Bill McKinnon, of Washington University in St. Louis, deputy leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team.

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