NASA maps part of Pluto's complex terrain

The left side of its heart is more complicated than you think.

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Mariella Moon
February 12th, 2016
In this article: nasa, pluto, science, space

Pluto's surface looks pretty textured even from afar, but you may still be surprised by how complex its terrain actually is. This new color-coded geological map illustrates that complexity more clearly. It covers 1,290 miles of the dwarf planet, including the left side of Pluto's heart-shaped region and its surrounding areas. NASA has identified and labeled the texture and morphology of everything that falls within the rectangular map. The cracked, bluish part in the center, for instance, represents a nitrogen ice plain within Tombaugh Regio called Sputnik Planum.

Those purple clumps flanking its right side (your left) are mountain ranges, while the red area in the bottom left edge is a possible cryovolcano called Wright Mons. The dark brown strip on the left side beside the purple mountain ranges marks the beginning of the Cthulhu Regio, dotted by impact craters colored in yellow. As you can see below, NASA describes each location as accurately as possible, whether its rubbly, degraded, eroded or pitted.

The map was created from 12 photos captured by New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, 48,000 miles away. They were taken almost two hours before the probe's nearest approach on July 14th, 2015 at a resolution of around 1,050 feet per pixel. NASA is taking a closer look at those photos from last year to determine which part goes on top of which. That will give the agency a pretty good idea if formations are older or younger than the ones beside them and to ultimately conjure up a timeline that shows when each one appeared on Pluto's surface.

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