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Initial Impressions of Pluto


Following the July 14, 2015 flyby of Pluto by the New Horizons space craft, it will continue to send back images for some time. Here are some first impressions about what we are seeing.

Pluto Color image
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The most noticeable feature of  Pluto is a large impact crater that exposed a lighter material under a darker surface material. The lighter material is probably ice that melted during the impact and refroze as it filled the crater. The other thing to note is that despite this large crater Pluto's surface seems to have relatively few craters. This means that it surface is younger than most of the cratering in solar system suggesting resent geologic activity. Geologic activity on such a small cold world is more consistent with a young Pluto that is thousands of years old rather than billions.

Pluto's icy mountains
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

This high resolution picture shows mountains that are most likely water ice and their presence in the absence of craters support the possibility of on going geologic activity. The presence of these water ice mountains would suggest that Pluto is warm enough inside to have liquid water that freezes at the surface. If this is the case, the presence of these mountains is consistent with a young Pluto rather than an older. one. It will take examining more data to confirm this but it is a good start.

Charon
NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Like Pluto itself  Charon has relatively few craters, and a single relatively large one. This too suggest the possibility of current geologic activity and a young world. Thus both Pluto and Charon are consistent with  youth rather than being billions of years old.

One possibility why both of these worlds could still be geologic activity is heat produced by the periods of accelerated nuclear decay indicated to have occurred 4000 - 8000 years ago by the R.A.T.E project. In any event the low cratering of Pluto and Charon are consistent with recent and possibly current  geologic activity, so Pluto and its moons are turning out to be an amazing place.

Surface Ice on Pluto



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