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Highly Anticipated Photos Of Pluto Reveal Big Surprise For Scientists

This movie zooms into the base of the heart-shaped feature on Pluto to highlight a mountain range with peaks.
This movie zooms into the base of the heart-shaped feature on Pluto to highlight a mountain range with peaks. Video Credit: NASA.gov video

FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. -- Highly anticipated photos of the dwarf planet Pluto revealed surprising images for scientists.

Icy mountains on Pluto with peaks more than 11,000 feet high prompted comparisons to the Rocky Mountains. Those mountains are less than 100,000 million years old -- regarded by scientists as "youthful" in a 4.56-billion-year-old solar system.

The close-up image of an equatorial region near the base of Pluto’s bright heart-shaped feature shows the mountain range, a discovery that means Pluto may still be geologically active today.

“This is one of the youngest surfaces we’ve ever seen in the solar system,” said Jeff Moore of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

The photo of the icy mountains, along with a crisp view of Pluto's largest moon, Charon, were displayed Wednesday by NASA's New Horizons team, just one day after the spacecraft’s historic Pluto flyby.

"The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations."

The new view of Charon reveals a youthful and varied terrain. New Horizons also observed the smaller members of the Pluto system, which includes four other moons: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos. A new sneak-peak image of Hydra is the first to reveal its apparent irregular shape and its size, estimated to be about 27 by 20 miles (43 by 33 kilometers).

Hundreds more photos of Pluto and the far reaches of the solar systems will be released for years to come. The distance of the New Horizon from Earth makes transmitting the photos faster impossible.

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