What was found on Pluto

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3 november 2015 | What did the NASA’s New Horizons mission found when it flew past Pluto? In an interesting blog principal investigator Alan Stern sums up the main discoveries. No new moons, tall mountains and dune fields and a vast, bright heart-shaped region.

In a blog on Sky and Telescope Stern, who is a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute, describes what struck him the most when New Horizons passed the dwar planet. One main surprise for Stern was that no new moons were found.

No new moons

“I don’t know about you, but I sure expected that we’d find more satellites circling Pluto. After finding four moons with successively deeper searches by the Hubble Space Telescope, I’m still amazed that our spacecraft searched with 20 to 30 times better sensitivity than Hubble and found nothing. Nada. Zip.”

As New Horizons passed Pluto very close, a lot of interesting things were found on the surface of the planet. It made for dazzling pictures and a great insight in how the dwarf planet is shaped. For example, very large mountains were seen. “what surprises me is that there are so many of them and that some tower 3 to 4 km or higher in altitude,“ Stern writes.

Next to mountains – more surprisingly – dunes appear on Pluto. For Stern this comes as a great surprise. “Pluto’s atmosphere isn’t dense enough to create the wind to shape surface particles into dunes. My personal bet is that the dune fields (and some of the dendritic networks we see geologically as well) are telling us that Pluto’s atmosphere was much thicker at some point (or points) in the past.”

In honor of Clyde Tombaugh

It was Clyde Tombaugh who discovered Pluto in 1930. In honor to him the great heart-shaped region that characterizes the planet is named after him. “The surprise here isn’t that such a feature exists — it’s the public-relations bonanza it provided. Pluto’s big “heart” emotionally connected all kinds of people who normally don’t care at all about planetary exploration. “

For more discoveries, go to Alan Stern’s blog

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