Space

Geological map to shed light on Pluto's evolution

Geological map to shed light o...
Image displaying the region included in a new map of Pluto's surface
Image displaying the region included in a new map of Pluto's surface
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Image displaying the region included in a new map of Pluto's surface
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Image displaying the region included in a new map of Pluto's surface
Geological map of the Sputnik Planum region complete with key
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Geological map of the Sputnik Planum region complete with key

Using data harvested by the New Horizons spacecraft over the course of its July 14, 2015 flyby, NASA scientists havecompiled a geological map of a vast swathe of Pluto's surface. It is hoped that maps like these will aid planetary scientists in unlocking the evolutionary past of the enigmaticdwarf planet.

From the first imagesreturned by New Horizons, scientists have been shocked at the sheerrange of geological diversity discovered by the probe. In order tomake sense of the dizzying array of disparate landscapes andfeatures, and how they may be connected to one another, planetaryscientists at NASA are developing surface maps.

Geological map of the Sputnik Planum region complete with key
Geological map of the Sputnik Planum region complete with key

The newly-constructedmap covers a vast swathe of Pluto's surface measuring 1,290 miles(2,070 km) from top to bottom. Twelve base images captured by NewHorizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined toprovide an average resolution of roughly 1,050 ft (320 m) per pixel or better,over which scientists have overlayed colors designating specificgeological characteristics and phenomena.

Included in the centerof the map is the unusual cell-like terrain thatcharacterizes the informally named Sputnik Planum. Bordering thisregion to the north in purple are mountainous regions, and towardsthe bottom of the map is a red mass, which represents a potentialcryovolcano known as Wright Mons.

The scientists say that studying the way the boundaries between unit crosscut one another will allow them to build up a relative chronology of the formation of the different units. This is useful for determining which geological processes have occurred on Pluto and when they occurred relative to one another.

Source: NASA

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