Photos of Pluto’s Surface Show Varied Terrain—More Complicated Than We Thought

Pluto just keeps on surprising us! By far the most popular planet in school, Pluto has continued to defy stereotypes and shatter expectations, and this wily planet may just be getting started.

NASA released several new images of the surface of Pluto, taken on July 14 of this year as New Horizons flew past the planet from a distance of 50,000 miles. The photos, especially the one above, show a varied and sometimes rugged terrain that differs greatly from what scientists were expecting. Alan Stern, the New Horizons Principal Investigator, had this to say about the nature of Pluto’s surface, and how it’s much more complicated than what they had predicted:

Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of processes that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system. If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”

If I know Pluto — and I think I do — it had this planned the whole time.

The terrain of Pluto contains features as mixed and varied as dunes, nitrogen ice flows that bled out of mountainous regions, and valleys that may have been carved through Pluto’s surface. “Jumbled” mountains exist on the surface, echoing those on Jupiter’s moon Europa, which is covered in ice. In fact, scientists now say that Pluto’s surface is as complex as that of Mars.

Scientists say that the new images of Pluto make discovering its geological past a “head-scratcher” because nowadays, Pluto’s atmosphere is so thin. It must not have always been that way, scientists postulate, because they see the possible existence of dunes on the surface of the planet. Definitely a head-scratcher.

Ever since Pluto was tragically demoted from “planet” status to “not a planet” status, it’s gained widespread popularity and enjoys a planetary distinction that the other rocky planets and gas giants simply do not have. And fans of Pluto will remember earlier this year, when images of Pluto seemed to reveal the silhouette of the Disney character, Pluto the Dog, upon its surface. Clearly, the planet is enjoying toying with the citizens of Earth, and if these new photos prove anything, it’s that Pluto has many more surprises waiting for us on the other side of the galaxy.

See all the new images of the surface of Pluto on the NASA website.

About The Author
Lisa Lo Paro
Lisa is a freelance writer and bibliophile living on the outskirts of New York City. She likes 2 a.m. with a good book, takes cream in her coffee and heavily filters her photos. Check out her blog The Most Happy, her Instagram, and Twitter.