Growing up with Pluto #4 – Surface features!

Detailed maps of Pluto’s surface were revealed in 2010
The most detailed maps yet of Pluto’s surface were revealed in 2010. NASA, ESA, and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute).

In 1996 HST images showed surface features for the first time and revealed a complex, varied terrain. Then in 2010, after seven years of image processing, we saw Pluto in full colour for the first time. The colours are probably the result of a complex mix of materials, including carbon compounds, nitrogen ices and carbon monoxide frosts.

By this time we also knew Pluto had an atmosphere, seasons modified its surface features and it two more moons – we now know of five moons in total.


As New Horizons races towards Pluto the images are just beginning to surpass these old HST maps. It reminds me of the excitement and the surprise of discovery we felt in the 1980s. Back then the Voyager probes revealed the outer planets in all their glory – first Jupiter then Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Only Pluto remained…


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