New Horizons Shares Close-up Images of Pluto's Icy Plains Named Sputnik Planum

Posted on September 11, 2015

Pluto Sputnik Planum

New high-resolution images show icy plains on Pluto called the Sputnik Planum. The above image shows 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) of terrain. It was taken when New Horizons was 50,000 miles from the surface of Pluto. NASA started downlinking the Pluto images from New Horizons on September 5. It will take about one year to complete the entire download process.

NASA says some of the new downlinked images reveal possible dunes, networks of valleys and nitrogen ice flows. NASA says Pluto may contain a "field of dark wind-blown dunes." They also reveal the oldest terrain yet seen on Pluto.

New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern says in a statement, "Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we've seen in the solar system. If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top - but that's what is actually there."

Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team, says, "The surface of Pluto is every bit as complex as that of Mars. The randomly jumbled mountains might be huge blocks of hard water ice floating within a vast, denser, softer deposit of frozen nitrogen within the region informally named Sputnik Planum."

The image below shows a jumbled, broken terrain located on the northwestern edge of the Sputnik Planum. You can find more of the new Pluto images here.

Jumbled, broken terrain located near the Sputnik Planum


Photo: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute