Scientists have been making a number of major discoveries thanks to NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has been incredibly busy lately, observing a mysterious deep solar system object called 1994 JR1 as we reported recently, but it’s been a lot busier than that.
A new report from NASA indicates that New Horizons has spotted an expanse of terrain in Pluto’s Venera Terra region that has been described as “fretted,” with bright plains divided into blocks of dark valleys a few miles wide, an impact craters up to 15 miles wide, suggesting that this part of Pluto’s surface hasn’t changed much in its history, according to a NASA statement.
It’s an astonishing find that hasn’t been seen anywhere else on Pluto, or anywhere else on the solar system for that matter.
Scientists think that extensional fracturing on pLuto’s surface may have created the weird valley network, and were widened by movement of nitrogen ice galciers or even flowin gliquids.
The images were taken about 21,100 miles from Pluto, or about 45 minutes before New Horizons reached its closest approach back in July last year. New Horizons has been sending back a trickle of data ever since its incredible summer flyby, and it now heads into deep space to observe objects in the Kuiper Belt, including 1994 JR1 as well as MU69, its ultimate target which it is expected to reach in 2019.
The statement reads. “New Horizons scientists haven’t seen this type of terrain anywhere else on Pluto; in fact, it’s rare terrain across the solar system – the only other well-known example of such being Noctis Labyrinthus on Mars. The distinct interconnected valley network was likely formed by extensional fracturing of Pluto’s surface. The valleys separating the blocks may then have been widened by movement of nitrogen ice glaciers, or flowing liquids, or possibly by ice sublimation at the block margins. Compositional data from New Horizons’ Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), shown in the bottom image, indicate that the blocks are rich in methane ice (shown as false-color purple); methane is susceptible to sublimation at Pluto surface conditions.”