The plains of Pluto (Image: NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)
New Horizons has already blown past Pluto, but it’s going to be sending back data for years. Scientists have already found amazing mountains on the planet’s surface and an intriguing, heart-shaped feature. Now, they’ve got a close-up of that feature, and they’ve discovered “a vast, craterless plain” in the heart’s center left.
This plain is, by the standards of space and geology, pretty young—it was first formed 100 million years ago at the latest, and it looks like it’s still taking shape. It’s characterized by areas about 12 miles across and outlined by darker troughs.
NASA says that there are two theories about what’s formed these patches. They might be like “frozen mud cracks”—similar to a dried-up mud field—or they might be more like “wax rising in a lava lamp.” No matter what process formed them, though, they’re not anything that scientists expected to see.
Pluto’s “heart” (Image: NASA/APL/SwRI)
Pluto’s mountains (Image: NASA/JHU APL/SwRI)
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