All eyes on Pluto

A photograph from New Horizons’ July 2015 flyby of Pluto shows ice mountains on the planet’s surface. (NASA image)

Early images from the New Horizons flyby of Pluto are causing quite a stir among scientists, as photographs released by NASA reveal new characteristics of the dwarf planet and its moon, Charon.

Wheaton Professor of Geology Geoffrey Collins, a planetary scientist whose article about tectonic activity on Pluto was published in January, told Science magazine he was amazed by the images.

“Clearly we’re seeing internal activity on the surface of Pluto and Charon,” he told the magazine this week after NASA released images showing mountains of water ice on the planet’s surface. “Something is pulling apart their ice crusts.”

Also surprising was the lack of craters on much of the surface of both Pluto and Charon—signs that they have been shaped more recently than previously thought.

“I’m very excited about the Pluto flyby. I’ve been waiting for this for years,” Collins said. “The first data is tantalizing, but it’s the tip of the iceberg of what we’re going to be getting over the next weeks and months. I’m trying very hard not to do ‘instant science’ on the first images.”

NASA plans to release more images at press conferences on July 17 and July 24, according to the Science article.

“Tectonic activity on Pluto after the Charon-forming impact,” which Collins co-wrote with Amy C. Barr of Brown University, was published in January 2015 in Icarus, a scientific journal focused on the field of solar system studies.