This image was taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft shortly before closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015; it resolves details as small as 270 yards (250 meters). The scene shown is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) across. The sun illuminates the scene from the left, and north is to the upper left.
Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Thousands of Pits Punctuate Pluto’s Forbidding Plains in Latest Photos

Article Updated: 23 Dec , 2015
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A brand new batch of Pluto and Charon photos showed up today on the New Horizons LORRI (LOng-Range Reconnaissance Imager) site. The photos were taken during the close flyby of the system on July 14, 2015 and show rich detail including craters and parallel cracks on Charon and thousands of small pits punctuating Pluto’s nitrogen ice landscape. Have at ’em!

This wider view shows the textured surface of Pluto's icy plains riddled with small pits. It almost looks like the dark areas in the sinuous channels between the mounds were once covered with frost or ice that has since sublimated away. They look similar to the polar regions on Mars where carbon dioxide frost burns off in the spring to reveal darker material beneath. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

This wider view shows the snakeskin-like textured surface of Pluto’s icy plains riddled with small pits. It almost looks like the dark areas in the sinuous channels between the mounds were once covered with frost or ice that has since sublimated away. They look similar to the polar regions on Mars where carbon dioxide frost burns off in the spring to reveal darker material beneath. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The first couple images feature the region informally known as Sputnik Planum. According to a release from NASA today, scientists think the region is composed of volatile ices such as solid nitrogen. They theorize that the pits and troughs – typically hundreds of meters across and tens of meters deep – are possibly formed by sublimation or evaporation of these ices in Pluto’s thin atmosphere. Still, their curious shapes and alignments remain a mystery. Adding to the intrigue is that even when seen up close, no impact craters are visible, testifying to the icy plain’s extreme geologic youth.

By the way, there are more images at the LORRI link at top. I picked a representative selection but I encourage you to visit and explore.

Now that's what I call getting a photo in low light. Sunlight scrapes across rugged mountains as well as highlight the ubiquitous pits. Credit:

Now that’s what I call getting a photo in low light. Sunlight scrapes across rugged mountains as well as highlight the ubiquitous pitted terrain. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Life's definitely the pits on Pluto's Tombaugh Regio. This photo shows the fainter "ghost" pits well. Is ice filling them in or are we seeing the start of a pit's formation? Credit:

Life’s definitely the pits on Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio. This photo shows the fainter “ghost” pits well. Is ice filling them in or are we seeing the beginning of a pit’s formation? Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

A fine view of Pluto's largest moon Charon and its vast canyon system. Credit:

A fine view of Pluto’s largest moon Charon and its vast canyon system. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Looking over Charon's dark north polar region, the border of which is highlighted by several beautiful rayed craters. Not that it's necessarily related, but the dark spot reminds me of a lunar mare or sea. On the moon, cracks in the crust allowed lava to fill gigantic basins to create the maria. Could material from beneath Charon have bubbled up to fill an ancient impact? Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Looking over Charon’s dark north polar region, the border of which is highlighted by several beautiful rayed craters. Not that it’s necessarily related, but the dark spot reminds me of a lunar mare or sea. On the moon, cracks in the crust allowed lava to fill gigantic basins to create the maria. Could material from beneath Charon have bubbled up to fill an ancient impact? Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Speaking of the Moon, these cracks resembles lunar rills, some of which formed through faulting / fracturing and others as conduits for lava flows. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Speaking of the Moon, the large cracks at left resemble lunar rills, some of which formed through faulting / fracturing and others as conduits for lava flows. The multiple, fine cracks  are interesting. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Splendid rayed crater, each with its own set of tones. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Splendid rayed crater with an interesting contrast between dark and light ejecta. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

A busy region on Charon, the meeting place of different terrains. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

A busy region on Charon, the meeting place of different terrains. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

 

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7 Responses

  1. crocodilebomb says:

    Escape from the bottomless black pits of Pluto! If that field of view is 130 miles across those pits are pretty large. Is that much darker material at the bottom, or is it in shadow?

  2. ch2co says:

    The way that the rows of ice pits are aligned, reminds me of ice caves on Earth that are carved out of ice fields by rivers moving underneath the ice field. Over time the surface tends to fall into the cave below sort of like a sink hole producing windows to the outside from within the ice cave.
    On Pluto the rivers would have to be liquid nitrogen or some other Plutarian material akin to water on earth.

    ch2co

  3. UFOsMOTHER says:

    Thanks Bob these photos are fantastic and yes the dark north pole region of Sharon looks just like the Mare areas of our own Moon so familiar yet so far away…

  4. Aqua4U says:

    Each fresh batch of images from the New Horizon’s team proves more and more incredible and fascinating. I’m kind of glad the data is taking such a long time to D/L and didn’t arrive in a single burst because expectation sweetens and extends the pleasure!

    • Bob King says:

      Aqua,
      I think you struck a chord there. I also like the regular image “drops”. Like getting a great movie every couple weeks from Netflix … but much better.

      • Aqua4U says:

        I can’t stop coming back to these images! Thanks again for the work you do for your fans.

        “Rows of small pits pockmark the ice in Sputnik Planum on Pluto in this latest photo returned by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shortly before closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015. Could these divots be caused by sublimating nitrogen ice?” It makes total sense that there would be continuing ‘exhalation’ by a somewhat newly altered planetary precursor. The impact on the pole (dark area) and the chasm canyon to the lower right in image #6 looks as though it came VERY close to destroying Charon. WOW and double WOW! Think of the energy imbued into the core by that impact! WOW-WOW! At cryogenic temps.. how long does it take for those kinds of temperature increases to radiate?

        Sure does inspire some thoughtszuh… LIke, what elements might be synthesized during the conflagration of fusion temps during impact? Stuff we might need?

        Once again folks.. as far as we can tell, this solar system is ours. Don’t cha think we oughta go on out and at least take a look at our inheritance?

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