In DepthPlanetary Science

Late harvest from Pluto reveals a complex world

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Science  16 Oct 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6258, pp. 260-261
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6258.260

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NASA's New Horizons team, which in July sent a spacecraft past Pluto, publishes their first results this week. They describe features on Pluto's surface and in its atmosphere, such as a crust of water ice veneered with other frozen chemicals, a region of smooth, strangely youthful terrain, and a hazy atmosphere that has so far withstood an intensifying cold but is expected to freeze solid in the coming years. As more data come down from the spacecraft, the team has continued to find surprising features, such as water-ice mountains that may in fact be floating icebergs, and a perplexing "snakeskin" terrain of icy blades hundreds of meters high. The team is now preparing to steer the spacecraft to its next stop on its long journey: 2014 MU69, a Kuiper Belt object less than 50 kilometers across that the probe should intersect on New Year's Day in 2019.