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Pluto flashes its unusual pits

Nitrogen ice strangeness on 'weird' dwarf planet

By Lester Haines, 19 Oct 2015

NASA's New Horizons mission has returned an intriguing photo of Pluto's Sputnik Planum plains, showing an "enigmatic cellular pattern" and "unusual clusters of small pits and troughs".

The News Horizons image of the Sputnik Planum

Cellular patterns, pits and troughs on Pluto's Sputnik Planum. Bigger version here

Scientists speculate the pits and troughs may be formed by the sublimation or evaporation of nitrogen ice.

New Horizons project scientist Hal Weaver said: "Pluto is weird, in a good way.* The pits, and the way they’re aligned, provide clues about the ice flow and the exchange of volatiles between the surface and atmosphere, and the science team is working hard to understand what physical processes are at play here."

The image was snapped by New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI). It represents an area of around 210km across at a resolution of roughly 250 metres.

The Sputnik Planum in full

The Sputnik Planum. Details here

The Sputnik Planum, seen above in a wide view, is largely featureless from a distance, and the absence of impact craters is evidence of the area's geographical youth, NASA notes.

Bootnote

*We shudder to think what the potential implications for humanity might be were Pluto weird in a bad way.

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