Why is Pluto no longer visible

New Pluto images show a planet that is surprisingly busy

The observed ice flows, as well as polygonal formations discovered in the last week, suggest that the landscape movements on Pluto may be driven by heat radiated from the interior of the planet. The polygons are smooth, raised areas surrounded by shallow fractures that could have been formed by convection within Pluto's ice envelope.

In other words, what we are observing are the layers of ice on Pluto that are being mixed up in slow motion.

But there is more to see. In new, improved color photos, Pluto looks like a world caught in the crossfire of an interplanetary paintball fight. Its entire surface is littered with colored blobs: some dark, some light, some blue, others pale pink.

“Some parts look like pastries, for example near the equator, others are covered with condensation residue from the ice. It's easy to see at the North Pole, for example, ”says Cathy Olkin, Deputy Project Manager at New Horizons.

A large peach colored blotch forms a large part of the "heart" of Pluto. According to the observations of the scientists, however, this heart is unmistakably “broken”: It is divided into two halves, and on one of these halves there are ice that flows over Pluto's equator.

“Light-colored material, probably nitrogen snow, is transported away from the place of its formation on the western bulge. Perhaps through winds, ”says Stern,“ or through sublimation ”.

Then there is the polar cap of the planet, which is colored orange-bronze, and whose foothills extend from the North Pole over complex landscapes. Additional data from New Horizons will provide scientists with clues as to what components the brightly colored areas are made up of.


And what happens above the surface? Pluto's atmosphere, which we have known since 1988 but which we have not yet been able to see, is a delicate but extensive veil that extends more than 1,600 kilometers above the surface of the celestial body.

There are a myriad of theories as to how this veil might behave as Pluto completes its egg-shaped orbit, on which it is currently moving away from the sun to enter the Pluto winter.

However, the atmosphere looked very different from the predictions, which had assumed that Pluto's atmosphere would have to collapse when winter entered.

Instead, the atmosphere has continued to expand during the two decades of observation. Meanwhile, however, new data from the New Horizons REX meter shows that Pluto's atmosphere has lost almost half of its mass in the past two years.

“It's only a single data point, but it's significant. We'll have to examine it more closely, ”says team member Michael Summers of George Mason University.