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New Horizons Data Provide More Details About Pluto

By Jasper Nikki De La Cruz | Dec 21, 2015 11:12 PM EST

The New Horizons ground team has discussed new details about Pluto's geological process, composition and hazes at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. One of the highlights of the presentation is the deep layer of solid nitrogen along with other volatile ices.

The New Horizons spacecraft had evidence of the planet's glacial activity from past to present. This includes a Yellowstone National Park-like hanging valleys being found on the distant planet. The images were taken 5 months after the spacecraft traveled past Pluto. It also took the first images and measurements of this icy planet, including the satellites.

"We're much less than halfway through transmitting data about the Pluto system to Earth, but a wide variety of new scientific results are already emerging," New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said.

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Pluto has a deep layer of solid nitrogen and other volatile ices. These things are key to understanding the activity on Pluto. Sputnik Planum is a 620 mile wide basin found on the left side of Tomboaugh Regio. This formation holds a deep layer of the said elements.

"Pluto has greatly exceeded our expectations in diversity of landforms and processes - processes that continue to the present," Alan Howard of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, who is working with New Horizons' Geology, Geophysics, and Imaging (GGI) team, explained.

Pluto's haze stretches hundreds of kilometers above its surface. According to the data and images the spacecraft has returned, the haze has layers and varies spatially around the planet.

"Like almost everything on Pluto, the haze is much more complicated than we thought," New Horizons co-investigator Andy Cheng of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, said.

The New Horizons spacecraft is now in deep space at more than 51,500 kilometers per hour. It has now traveled 5.2 billion kilometers from Earth.

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