From the Popular Mechanics
Using data from the New Horizons spacecraft, researchers have created the first comprehensive maps of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.
At the time of the launch of New Horizons, scientists predicted that LORRI "would provide an unprecedented view of the geology of Pluto and its moons." After photographing during the 2015 flyby, that's exactly what was done.
<p class = "canvas-atom canvas-text Mb (1.0em) Mb (0) – sm Mt (0.8em) – sm" type = "text" content = "" This was one the most complex and exciting planetary mapping projects I could have participated in. Something new would be revealed each time new images appeared, "said Paul Schenk, a leading New Horizons researcher at the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), in a press release.
" data-reactid = "37" "This was one of the most complex and exciting planetary mapping projects I've been involved in. Something new would come up every time new images appeared," said Paul Schenk, a leading New Horizons researcher at the Universities Space Research Association (USRA ), in a press release.
While LORRI and its companion instruments, such as the Multispectral Visual Image Camera (MVIC), sent raw data to Earth, researchers found it useful to unpack and analyze the data. This two-year process, which took place in real time as New Horizons slowly returned his data, required a detailed alignment of the surface features in overlapping images to compose a mosaic of the small world.
These cartographic and topographic maps provide a level of detail previously unavailable to Pluto. Examples include Sputnik Planitia, a 625-mile frozen nitrogen ice that is 1.5 miles thick on average, making it the least known area on Pluto's surface.
From the lowest point to the highest point, the maps offer a new look at the features like the Tenzing Montes, the highest mountain range on Pluto. Formed on the southwestern edges of Sputnik Planitia, these icy peaks have steep 40-degree slopes, making them likely to become expert-level Black Diamond ski slopes when on Earth.
Named after the Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who became one of the first known humans besides Edmund Hillary, the Mt. Everest, the highest peak in the region, is about 3 , 7 miles above the mean altitude of Pluto – the equivalent of the "dwarf planet" at sea level. It is similar to Denali in Alaska. The mountain range also speaks the different types of ice on Pluto. The nitrogen ice that makes up Sputnik-Planitia, for example, would be too weak to sustain a mountain range even in Pluto's low gravity.
"data-reactid =" 55 "> The maps have also enabled a better understanding of Charon. The tiny moon has 8.7-mile-deep depressions deeper than the Mariana Trench, and the charts confirm that Charon is likely to have volcanoes of ice known as cyclo-volcano. Photo Credit: USRA / NASA  Photo Credit: USRA / NASA
The maps also revealed new mysteries about the distant celestial bodies. The longest contiguous feature on Pluto appears to be an eroded first-and-trough system spanning 1,864 miles north-south along the western side of the Sputnik Planitia. There is currently no understanding of how this fracture came about.
<p class = "canvas-atom canvas-text Mb (1.0em) Mb (0) – sm Mt (0.8em) – sm" type = "text" content = "The maps were archived in the Planetary Data System and A research report describing the maps has been published in the journal Icarus . "data-reactid =" 68 "> The maps were archived in the Planetary Data System and will soon be available to the public made accessible. A research paper describing the maps was published in the journal Icarus .
New Horizons is not finished yet. The probe recently woke up from months of hibernation to prepare for its next mission: a New Year's Day 2019 with an asteroid farther away than Pluto, named Ultima Thule. After this flyby we were able to get a whole new set of maps of the farthest object ever visited by spacecraft.
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