NASA’s New Horizons team has just uncovered what seems to be a snow blanket on Pluto’s Cthulhu Regio, composed of methane, the same primary element found in Earth’s natural gas.
Cthulhu Regio is one of Pluto’s most distinguishable features and it spreads almost halfway around the Equator, originating west from the vast nitrogen ice plains commonly known as Sputnik Planum.
It has a 1,850 miles length and a 450 miles width, making this region larger than the state of Alaska. According to scientists, its dark surface can be attributed to a blanket of dark tholins (complex molecules that develop when methane becomes exposed to sunlight).
The geology of this portion displays a wide range of landscapes, some resembling mountain chains, while others being heavily fractured and cratered.
In the image presented above one can observe a pronounced red color, which seems to reveal a 260 miles long mountain range in southeast Cthulhu. This impressive landscape is positioned between craters and its peaks are separated by a set of narrow valleys.
What is interesting is that the highest peaks seem to be covered by a white material, contrasting with the dark red pigmentation of the nearby plains.
According to scientists, this material could be methane that has later condensed into ice. John Stansberry is a New Horizons team member and he believes that this coating represents methane ice, which shows the same properties as Earth’s water, turning into frost when it reaches high altitudes.
The image was obtained using the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera from NASA’s New Horizon’s spacecraft. It has a resolution of 2,230 feet per pixel and it measures around 280×140 miles.
The New Horizons team captured this image on July 14th 2015, from a range of 21,100 miles from Pluto.
Ever since it was discovered in 1930, this dwarf planet has continued to surprise us, with amazing revelations about it being brought forward on a constant basis.
The amount of water that exists on Pluto is about three times larger than in all of our oceans combined and its surface is covered by ice, several mountain chains and a few craters to add in the mix.
This dwarf planet is smaller than our moon, having 18% of its mass and 66% of the Earth’s moon diameter. It has five known moons, its most famous one being Charon, discovered back in 1978.
Image Source: NASA.gov