NASA has discovered a second mountain range within Pluto’s ‘heart.’
New Horizons has revealed a second set of mountains in the southwestern margin of Pluto’s heart-shaped feature. The image, revealed on Tuesday, shows the mountains lie in between a dark, heavily cratered region to the west and bright, icy plains to the east.
The newly discovered mountains rise approximately a half-mile to one mile above the surface, making them considerably smaller than the ice mountains uncovered by New Horizons last week, which are the size of the Rocky Mountains. The new mountain range is roughly the size of the Appalachian Mountains. [Read more: New Horizons Discovers Ice Mountains On Pluto]
The region depicted in the image lies 68 miles northwest of the first mountain range and is just to the west of the icy plains recently discovered by New Horizons. The plains, informally named Sputnik Planum — meaning Sputnik Plains — are estimated to be no more than 100 million years old and may still geologically active. [Read more: New Horizons Discovers Icy Plains In The Center Of Pluto's Frozen Heart]
The dark surface to the west of the newly found mountain range is likely billions of years old due to the appearance of numerous impact craters. It is thought that the bright sediment-like material is perhaps filling in the impact craters and erasing their scars from the surface.
“There is a pronounced difference in texture between the younger, frozen plains to the east and the dark, heavily-cratered terrain to the west,” Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team said in a statement. “There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand.”
The image, sent back to Earth on July 20, was captured by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on July 14, when New Horizons was 48,000 miles from Pluto’s surface. Surface features as small as half a mile wide can be resolved in the image.
Editor’s Note: The featured image is an artist concept of the surface of Pluto. Image Credit: NASA / SwRI / Alex Parker