During a July 24 science update at NASA headquarters, new surprising imagery and science results were revealed from the recent flyby of Pluto, by the New Horizons spacecraft. These included an image from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager or (LORRI) – looking back at Pluto – hours after the historic flyby that shows haze in the planet’s sunlit atmosphere, that extends as high as 80 miles above Pluto’s surface – much higher than expected. Models suggest that the hazes form when ultraviolet sunlight breaks apart methane gas.
LORRI images also show evidence that exotic ices have flowed – and may still be flowing across Pluto’s surface, similar to glacial movement on Earth. This unpredicted sign of present-day geologic activity was detected in Sputnik Planum – an area in the western part of Pluto’s heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio.
Additionally, new compositional data from New Horizons’ Ralph instrument indicate that the center of Sputnik Planum is rich in nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and methane ices.