NASA’s New Horizons mission spotted floating hills on Pluto

Feb 5, 2016 14:12 IST

NASA’s New Horizons mission on 14 July 2015 spotted the nitrogen ice glaciers on Pluto appeared to carry numerous isolated hills which are likely to be the fragments of water ice, as per the press release of NASA on 4 February 2016.

As the nitrogen-dominated ice is dense than water ice, it is believed that newly found water ice hills are floating in a sea of frozen nitrogen and resembles icebergs in Earth’s Arctic Ocean. These hills individually measure one to several miles or kilometers across.

These hills are another example of Pluto’s fascinating and abundant geological activity and are likely to be fragments of the rugged uplands and smaller versions of the large and jumbled mountains on Sputnik Planum’s western border.


Chains of the drifting hills are formed along the flow paths of the glaciers.

When the hills enter the cellular terrain of central Sputnik Planum, they become subject to the convective motions of the nitrogen ice and are pushed to the edges of the cells where the hills cluster in groups reaching up to 12 miles across.

At the northern end of the image, the feature informally named Challenger Colles which are honoring the crew of the lost space shuttle Challenger appears to be an especially large accumulation of these hills, measuring 37 by 22 miles or 60 by 35 kilometers.

This feature is located near the boundary with the uplands which are away from the cellular terrain and represent a location where hills are beached due to the nitrogen ice being especially shallow.

The image was obtained by New Horizons’ Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) instrument and it measures a little over 500 kilometers long and about 340 kilometers wide.

It was obtained at a range of approximately 16000 kilometers from Pluto and about 12 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto on 14 July 2015.

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