Closest Pluto Images Yet Reveal Icy Mountains

NASA has released the first ever close-up image of Pluto revealing a range of mountains rising as high as 11,000ft (3.5km) above its icy surface.

The space agency estimates the mountains are less than 100 million years old, which makes them “mere youngsters” when compared with the age of the solar system.

The close-up image was taken about 1.5 hours before the New Horizons probe’s closest approach to Pluto, when the craft was 478,000 miles (770,000km) from its surface.

Jeff Moore from NASA’s New Horizons’ Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team said that suggests part of Pluto may still be geologically active.

“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” he said.

Dr Moore said the age estimate is based on the lack of craters in the image, something that would not be expected if it was much older.

NASA says that unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by “gravitational interactions” with a much larger planetary body.

As a result, scientists think some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape.

John Spencer, from the Southwest Research Institute, said: “This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds.”

NASA has also released new images of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon.

Scientists have been similarly surprised by the lack of craters, which again indicates a relatively young surface.

The space probe observed smaller members of the Pluto system, including four other moons: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos.

Initial observations reveal Hydra is covered in ice, although NASA is yet to release high-resolution images.

The New Horizons craft travelled more than three billion miles over nine-and-a-half years to reach the Pluto system.

The mission has helped give  scientists a better understanding about the ‘dwarf’ planet .

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