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Pluto’s icy landscape comes into view

New Horizons reveals varied terrain, evidence of active geology

6:00am, July 26, 2015
surface of Pluto

Mountains of water ice roughly as tall as the Rockies tower over a young landscape to the south of Pluto’s heart-shaped region. Snows of nitrogen and methane blanket the peaks. On the dwarf planet, water ice probably behaves like bedrock on Earth.

LAUREL, Md. — Alan Stern, head of the New Horizons mission to Pluto, had just three words for the team of scientists and engineers assembled with him on July 14: “We did it.”

At 8:52:37 p.m. Eastern time, a radio antenna near Madrid received the first signal from the spacecraft since it buzzed the dwarf planet. After decades of planning and a 9.5-year journey across nearly 5 billion kilometers of interplanetary space (SN: 6/27/15, p. 16), the New Horizons probe reported that it was in good health and that the mission was a success. The spacecraft flew within 12,500 kilometers of Pluto, right on schedule.

“Our spacecraft did exactly what it was supposed to do,” said mission operations manager Alice Bowman. “Just like we planned it, just like we practiced.”

From now on, Pluto

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