New Horizons has sent one of the most interesting and mysterious images of the surface of dwarf planet Pluto.
In the image, we can observe a mysterious object that seems to be “sliding” across the surface of the dwarf planet in one of the grooves that decorate the plain known as Sputnik Planum. NASA experts believe that the object whose appearance is reminiscent to that of a snail could be a “dirty block” of ice water “floating” in dense solid nitrogen while being dragged to the edge of a convection cell.
The weird looking object resembles a “snail”.
The image, transmitted back to Earth on December 24, 2015, was taken by the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at a distance of approximately 10,000 miles (17,000 kilometers), which was able to snap the best images with highest resolution of the heart of the Sputnik Planum, the icy plains forming the left side of the heart-shaped surface of the dwarf planet.
The Sputnik Planum lies at a lower altitude than most of the surrounding area by several kilometers say scientists, yet its surface isn’t completely flat since it is separated into cells or polygons of 16 to 40 kilometers wide. When viewed at low sun angles (with visible shadows) these cells appear slightly higher in its center with margins furrowed at different heights.
According to researchers, the mysteriously-shaped polygonal cell features are believed to have been created over time due to the slow thermal convection of the icy plains which are believed to be composed of a mixture of nitrogen ices with water ices.
Besides the weird looking object that seems to resemble a “snail” and stands out at first glance, a large “X” on the bottom right corner of the image is another of the most striking features in the new photo. According to NASA, the curious shape is the melted remnants of a quadruple junction of the polygonal or cellular patterns which dominate the humongous Sputnik Planum region.
“This part of Pluto is acting like a lava lamp,” said William McKinnon, deputy lead of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team, from Washington University in St. Louis, “if you can imagine a lava lamp as wide as, and even deeper than, the Hudson Bay.”
Until now, The New Horizons spacecraft has transmitted only twenty percent of the total images the space probe took during the historical flyby, says mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado.
“It’s hard to imagine how rapidly our view of Pluto and its moons are evolving as a new data stream in each week. As the discoveries pour in from those data, Pluto is becoming a star of the solar system,” says Stern.
“Moreover, I’d wager that for most planetary scientists, any one or two of our latest major findings on one world would be considered astounding. To have them all is simply incredible.”
Researchers estimate that the New Horizons spacecraft gather a staggering 50 gigabytes of data as it flew by Pluto, Charon its largest moon, and four other smaller sized objects. Researchers estimate that it will take around one year for all the data to arrive back to Earth ( via ewao.com ).