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New image depicts Pluto’s rugged highlands

A highly detailed view of Pluto's surface, at the boundary between the icy plain of Sputnik Planum and the rugged highlands known as Krun Macula. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

A composite, enhanced color image of Krun Macula, a dark, rugged terrain bordering the bottom of Pluto’s smooth, icy Sputnik Planum, is the latest photo released by NASA’s New Horizons mission.

Two of the raw images used to create it were taken by the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) while the third was captured by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC).

All three are among the highest- and second-highest resolution photos captured by New Horizons’ instruments.

Macula are dark regions on a planet’s surface. The name Krun refers to the Mandaean religion’s lord of the underworld.

An area of rugged highlands, Krun Macula has a red color likely resulting from the presence of tholins, complex molecules produced when solar radiation interacts with organic compounds such as methane or ethane.

It rises 1.5 miles (2.5 km) over the adjacent Sputnik Planum and features clusters of connected round pits with depths up to 1.5 miles (2.5 km) and widths ranging from five to eight miles (eight to 13 km).

The pits located at the Sputnik Planum boundary elongate into deep valleys more than 25 miles (40 km) long with widths of 12.5 miles (20 km).

Nearly twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, the valleys, which have floors covered in nitrogen ice, reach a depth of close to two miles (three km).

While mission scientists think the pits were created by a surface collapse, they as yet cannot explain what might have caused that collapse.

The right side of the composite closeup image, which depicts Krun Macula, has a resolution of 260 feet (80 meters) per pixel. It was taken by LORRI from a distance of 9,850 miles (15,850 km) just 23 minutes before closest approach on July 14, 2015.

The left side, taken 29 minutes before closest approach, has a resolution of 410 feet (125 meters) per pixel. Taken from a distance of 15,470 miles (24,900 km), it features the smooth, icy terrain of Sputnik Planum.

LORRI images are black and white. These two were combined with a color image captured by Ralph/MVIC taken 45 minutes before closest approach from a distance of 21,100 miles (33,900 km). This photo’s resolution is 2,230 feet (680 meters) per pixel.

Laurel Kornfeld

Laurel Kornfeld

Staff Writer
Laurel Kornfeld is a freelance writer and amateur astronomer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program.
About Laurel Kornfeld (934 Articles)
Laurel Kornfeld is a freelance writer and amateur astronomer from Highland Park, NJ, who enjoys writing about astronomy and planetary science. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program.