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Pluto’s Secrets Revealed

October 19, 2015

Pluto’s first close-ups reveal unexpected geological features.

Transcript

nh-pluto_crop NASA JHUAPL SwRI

Pluto, as imaged by the New Horizons spacecraft. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Pluto’s secrets revealed. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

This summer, the New Horizons spacecraft flew by the dwarf planet Pluto, and now, in the journal Science, Southwest Research Institute planetary scientist Alan Stern and his team report the first discoveries. One is that Pluto has mountains and deep canyons. That means the nitrogen crust that covers the surface must have a stronger, heavier material underneath, like water ice.

ALAN STERN (Southwest Research Institute):

We found that in some places the water ice is exposed, so that clinches the case. So the nitrogen is a frosting over a stronger and deeper water ice crust.

HIRSHON:

They also found large areas of the surface that must be newly formed, because they’re not yet pocked with craters.

STERN:

Which was a surprise cause it means that Pluto’s geological engine is still running more than 4 billion years after the planet formed.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.