The new close-up image of Pluto’s surface by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shows a vast, craterless frozen plain, no more than 100 million years old and possibly still changing.
This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.
This terrain is not easy to explain, said leader Jeff Moore, adding that the discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations.
This fascinating icy plains region, resembling frozen mud cracks on Earth, has been informally named “Sputnik Planum” (Sputnik Plain) after the Earth’s first artificial satellite.
Pluto’s icy plains also display dark streaks that are a few miles long. These streaks appear to be aligned in the same direction and may have been produced by winds blowing across the frozen surface.
The Tuesday “heart of the heart” image was taken when New Horizons was 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) from Pluto, and shows features as small as one-half mile (1 kilometer) across.
Mission scientists will learn more about these mysterious terrains from higher-resolution and stereo images that New Horizons will pull from its digital recorders and send back to Earth during the next year.