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Behold: Pluto's huge ICE MOUNTAINS ... and signs of cryovolcanoes?

Both the dwarf freezeworld and moon Charon are active – that shouldn't happen

Charon's early light

If the discovery of geological activity on Pluto was a surprise, the news that the same processes were happening on Charon was an even bigger surprise, said deputy project scientist Cathy Olkin.

"We originally thought Charon might be a heavily cratered terrain," she said. "It wasn't. What we saw just blew our socks off. All morning the team has been abuzz."


Charon and spacy

The image of Charon sent back shows a large dark spot near the north pole, which the team has dubbed Mordor. The patch is surrounded by an uneven spread of reddish material, but more instrument readings are needed before the boffins know what it is.

Below Mordor there is a series of troughs and cliffs that extend 600 miles across the body's surface, surrounded by a smoother surface, which the team think could be the result of geological activity.

In the top right of Charon's image, a massive canyon between four and six miles deep has been ripped in the surface, and there's a smaller one on the hidden side of the moon, around three miles deep.

"There's so much interesting science in this one image alone," she enthused. "There are also high resolution images with five times the detail to come. Pluto is not disappointing us and Charon didn't disappoint either. The new information in this first day's data exceeds what we came here for."

Hail Hydra!

New Horizons project scientist Hal Weaver was right when he said that Pluto and Charon will steal most of the interest in today's data, but he also showed off the first images we have of Hydra, Pluto's smallest moon.


Small, but not forgotten

Before the space probe got to Pluto we didn't know how big Hydra was – estimates ranged from 20 to 100 miles across. Now we know Hydra is 28 by 19 miles across and is elongated by 30 per cent in one dimension to form a peanut-shaped moon.

Although the initial image is blocky, we now know for sure that Hydra is covered with a layer of water ice. Weaver said that only water ice could account for the reflective surface of the moon and he's anxious to get hold of more data on the tiny body.

As are the rest of the team. NASA will present more findings on Friday, including spectrographic data from the probe and hopefully some stereo images so that a topographical map of the dwarf planet can be developed. A further conference will be held a week on Friday.

"I said a few days before New Horizons encountered Pluto that there were a lot of smiles in the team," Stern said. "Now I think you would characterize the rooms where people are working as something close to bedlam. I don’t think any one of us could have imagined it was this big a story." ®

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