Pluto, a so-called dwarf planet, has a great variety of landscapes, ranging from numerous hillocks to glacial flows and blocks of ice, according to images taken during the recent NASA space probe mission to the distant world and analyzed in various studies that on Thursday were published in Science magazine.
These are the first results to be made public gathered by the New Horizons space probe, which made a flyby of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, last July 14.
Researcher Jeffrey Moore headed the New Horizons study on geology, geophysics and imaging for the NASA Army Research Center at Moffett Field, California.
Moore’s research found evidence for the existence on Pluto of tectonic plates, hills and glaciers that transport huge blocks of ice across the surface of the frozen world far beyond the orbit of the gas giant Neptune.
The surprising variety of the dwarf planet’s geography, researchers say, is possibly due to a cryovolcanos, that is volcanoes that belch ice and water – instead of hot gas and lava – and form only on worlds far from the Sun.
The wide range of terrain suggests that the surface of Pluto has been sculpted by erosion and assorted geologic processes over the course of the last 100 million years.
In contrast, these processes have not taken place to such a degree on Charon, which despite being gouged with many craters and having a rough or bumpy northern hemisphere, appears to have a flat or level southern half.
On the other hand, resulting from the same NASA mission, Science on Thursday published several more studies and reports that complement one another.
For example, one study found that there is a wide range of colors and chemical compositions among Pluto’s frozen surface zones.
Another study found that Pluto’s atmosphere is colder and denser than scientists had previously thought.
Other studies show how the dwarf planet has modified the space around it, including interacting with the solar wind and solar system dust.
The experts believe that further – even ongoing – investigation is needed if we are to better understand Pluto’s geological composition.