Thursday, January 14, 2016

Possible Ice Volcano on Pluto Has the ‘Wright Stuff’

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Scientists with NASA’s New Horizons mission have assembled the highest-resolution color view of one of two potential cryovolcanoes spotted on the surface of the distant planet by the passing New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015. At about 90 miles (150 kilometers) across and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) high, the feature – informally named Wright Mons – is enormous. If it is in fact a volcano, as suspected, it would be the largest such feature discovered in the outer solar system.

Mission scientists are intrigued by the sparse distribution of red material in the image and wonder why it is not more widespread. Also perplexing is that there is only one identified impact crater on Wright Mons itself, telling scientists that the surface (as well as some of the crust underneath) was created relatively recently. This is turn may indicate that Wright Mons was volcanically active late in Pluto’s history.

This composite image includes pictures taken by the New Horizons spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a range of about 30,000 miles (48,000 kilometers), showing features as small as 1,500 feet (450 meters) across. Sprinkled across the LORRI mosaic is enhanced color data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) gathered about 20 minutes after the LORRI snapshots were taken, from a range of 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) and at a resolution of about 2,100 feet (650 meters) per pixel. The entire scene is 140 miles (230 kilometers) across. 

New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute leads the mission and mission science, payload operations, and encounter science planning.

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