Photo Of The Day: Pluto’s ‘Lava Lamp-Like’ Icy Plain

NASA releases another high-res image transmitted from the New Horizons spacecraft.

Mnet 56331 Pluto High Res Lava Lamp Edit
(Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)(Image credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Days ago, NASA released yet another stunning, high-resolution image of Pluto from its New Horizons spacecraft.

Transmitted from the spacecraft less than a month ago, this latest photo centers in on Sputnik Planum, the informal name of an icy plain west of Pluto’s “heart” feature.

Clearly visible in this latest image, Pluto’s surface is separated into massive cells (most between 10 to 25 miles wide), which appear to have raised centers and ridged margins when the sun hits them at a low angle. According to NASA, scientists believe these patterned cells stem from convection in the nitrogen-dominated landscape of Sputnik Planum.

Essentially, the solid nitrogen is warmed by Pluto’s internal heat, which makes it buoyant and creates a large blob that rises before cooling off and sinking back to the surface.

“This part of Pluto is acting like a lava lamp,” said William McKinnon, deputy lead of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team, from Washington University in St. Louis. “If you can imagine a lava lamp as wide as, and even deeper than, Hudson Bay.”

The New Horizons team says that these reoccurring blobs could slowly evolve and, eventually, merge over millions of years.

The X-shaped feature (as seen in the photo) is most likely where four convection cells once met.

What do you think of the latest high-resolution image from New Horizons? Comment below or tweet me @MNetAbbey

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