New icy mountains discovered in Pluto’s Tombaugh region

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Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region) packs more than one icy mountains as a new set of images of the region beamed back by New Horizons reveal a new mountain range on the lower-left edge of the dwarf planet’s best known feature, the bright, heart-shaped region.

The newly discovered mountain range are seemingly less lofty and can be seen near the southwestern margin of the Tombaugh Region, situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain.

Image of the mountain range [embedded above] was snapped by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14 during its closest flyby from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and sent back to Earth on July 20.


According to mission control scientists, these newly-discovered frozen peaks are estimated to be one-half mile to one mile (1-1.5 kilometers) high – about the same height as the United States’ Appalachian Mountains. The Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) discovered by New Horizons on July 15 more closely approximate the height of the taller Rocky Mountains.

The new range is just west of the region within Pluto’s heart called Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain). The peaks lie some 68 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Norgay Montes. This newest image further illustrates the remarkably well-defined topography along the western edge of Tombaugh Regio.

“There is a pronounced difference in texture between the younger, frozen plains to the east and the dark, heavily-cratered terrain to the west,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “There’s a complex interaction going on between the bright and the dark materials that we’re still trying to understand.”

While Sputnik Planum is believed to be relatively young in geological terms – perhaps less than 100 million years old – the darker region probably dates back billions of years. Moore notes that the bright, sediment-like material appears to be filling in old craters (for example, the bright circular feature to the lower left of center).