NASA: Sept. 25, 2015: A new set of images sent by the spacecraft New Horizons shows close-up images of the farthest member of our solar system.
Collected when the NASA satellite flew past Pluto, the pictures of a 220-mile wide close-up have baffled scientists by suggesting the presence of landforms like dark, aligned ridges that look like dunes.
Though the satellite passes by the Pluto at high speed, it has been able to capture enough to take the astronomers and geologists by surprise.
The latest pictures show vast plains, mountains, and valleys, deltas implying moving liquids, and a dozen other features that were not expected here.
Latest pictures of Pluto released by NASA indicate presence of dunes
The most surprising have been the dune-like ridges, which imply the presence of high winds.
Some of those stretch for several kilometers. Dunes are typically formed by blowing the wind and since the air on the present day Pluto is too thin to sculpt features like these, the pictures already suggest that the atmosphere on Pluto was once much thicker than it is today.
If, however, they are not dunes, some they might have been created by a source other than the wind.
William McKinnon, deputy lead of the Geology team, said,” Seeing dunes on Pluto — if that is what they are — would be completely wild because Pluto’s atmosphere today is so thin.”
“Either Pluto had a thicker atmosphere in the past, or some process we haven’t figured out is at work.”
It is not yet known whether these ‘dunes’ are made up of sand like rock particles or ice particles.
“Their origin is under debate,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.
Also seen were jumbled mountains similar to those spotted on Jupiter’s moon Europa where flowing water in an underground ocean could have destabilized the surface.
On Pluto, however, Dr. Stern believes that the collapse could have been caused by liquid nitrogen below these mountains.