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Latest dispatch from Pluto reveals frozen plains, icy hills and more

New images give shape to moon Nix and hint at dwarf planet’s geology

By
3:39pm, July 17, 2015
close-up of Pluto's surface

PLUTO’S PLAINS  A craterless plain etched by a network of shallow troughs lies within Pluto’s “heart,” as seen in this image taken July 14 when New Horizons was 77,000 kilometers from the dwarf planet. 

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Frozen plains, etched with a network of polygons bordered by shallow troughs, stretch away from Pluto’s icy mountains and through Pluto’s “heart.” Some troughs are filled with dark material, possibly irradiated hydrocarbons, while others are home to icy hills, New Horizons mission scientists announced at a July 17 news conference.

As with everything else coming from Pluto, planetary scientists are still at the scratching-their-heads phase.

“When I first saw [the plains], I called it the ‘not-easy-to-explain’ terrain,” said Jeff Moore, a planetary scientist at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

The polygons are roughly 20 to 30 kilometers across. One idea is that the surface there is like a boiling pot of oatmeal, Moore said. Heat welling up from below might be pushing up bubbles in the ice. Alternatively, they could be more like mud cracks seen on Earth

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