Released today by NASA, this image shows Pluto’s largest Moon, Charon. Astronomers have already informally dubbed the dark area near the North Poll “Mordoor,” an apparent nod to a territory in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.”
Since the “phone home” signal on Tuesday, the operations center has been “close to bedlam,” said chief investigator Alan Stern, adding that the influx of data made him feel like a kid in a “toy store.”
According to NASA, this image — a shot of a region near Pluto’s equator — shows icy mountains reaching as high as 11,000 feet.
Scientists were surprised at the apparent absence of craters on the planet’s surface. Presumably, Pluto has been “bombarded” by other objects in the Kuiper Belt region. But its lack of craters suggests “this is a very young surface,” deputy team leader John Spencer told reporters Wednesday.
The Pluto closeup is the culmination of over a decade of work by the New Horizons team, who launched the spacecraft in 2006.
New Horizons will spend the next 16 months beaming back data gathered during the flyby.
For more information about the New Horizons mission or Pluto visit: www.nasa.gov